More and more companies are turning to improv for business professionals. And for good reason. Improv can help your team collaborate better, be more creative, and increase productivity. Improv for business professionals is a fast-growing industry because successful workshops are interactive, fun, and full of lessons that directly relate to increased success at work.
Let's take a look at the benefits of improv for business professionals and what a session could look like for your company.
Why Improv for Business Professionals?
Almost a decade ago, I earned a Ph.D. in drama and theatre studies. I wrote my dissertation on the effects improv has on people's brains/minds. Palgrave published my book Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition soon after, making it the first book-length analysis of improv and the mind.
The takeaway from my initial research was that improv changes our focus. Because improvisers have to focus so intensely on each other, they don't have brain space to be self-conscious or distracted. That has obvious implications for business.
Theatrical improvisation is unique in that improvisers follow some general principles to improve their collaboration. There's the rule of agreement, where you agree with your fellow players' realities before adding onto them. You're also not supposed to judge your fellow improvisers. Having an open mind is key.
These guidelines, and many more, allow improvisers to spontaneously create scenes together from scratch. Improv is a system that helps people make something out of nothing. To do that, they have to trust each other, agree and add onto each other's ideas, and make each other look great. Again, wouldn't this be great if people did this at work?
It's a feel good, positive environment where collaboration is inevitable because everyone feels safe enough to take risks, make big choices, and build off each other's ideas.
I could have just as easily been describing the leading global companies just then. Improv aligns with contemporary corporate cultures because they're both chasing innovation, collaboration, and resilience.
Businesses have been integrating improv principles into their work for years. Google and Netflix are just two global companies that have already turned to applied improvisation to help their employees collaborate better, innovate, and become more resilient. Recently, researchers have started quantifying what companies like Google and Netflix have known for years about improv for business professionals.
Research Confirms Improv's Benefits
Two of the most recent improv studies demonstrate how improv increases divergent thinking, feelings of wellbeing, and uncertainty tolerance. These are all important skills for the modern employee.
These two studies were among the first to use control groups, which is an important step toward scientifically proving improv's benefits.
Divergent thinking is when you come up with novel ideas. Think of it as the brainstorming stage of creativity. Feelings of wellbeing are exactly what they sound like. Did people feel better after collaborating in improv games? And tolerance uncertainty is a measure of how comfortable people are with the unknown.
Improv helped people with all three. It made them more creative, feel better, and become more comfortable with uncertainty. And wouldn't every boss want this for their team?
Speaking of wellbeing, there are other studies that have demonstrated that improv reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. So it's not only helpful for your team's creativity and collaboration. It can also help people with their mental health, which is great for the success of any team.
What Does a Workshop Look Like?
When someone contacts me for an improv workshop, the first step is a detailed phone conversation. An improv workshop for a small nonprofit struggling with collaboration should be drastically different than a large team of designers who wants to optimize their creative output. A detailed conversation helps me get all the information I need to design the right workshop for the needs of the particular group.
I also ask for a book recommendation during that initial phone call, something that helps me get to know the team and create a more targeted and personalized session. If your team just read a sales book, I will too. That way we'll all be speaking the same language on the day of the workshop.
Improv is active, so participants should expect to be moving and interacting for most of the improv for business professionals workshop. Workshops generally start with an active warm-up that sets the tone for the day. Then, I like to go around and gather some goals for the session. We'll check back at the end of the workshop to see how we've addressed each of those goals.
And then we play. I make sure to provide a good mix of games and activities. Participants alternate between active improv games and seated partner and group activities where they can transfer their new skills to the office place.
One of the keys to a successful improv workshop is debriefing. We don't just play games. We discuss what lessons we're experiencing in those games and activities and how to start integrating them at work.
Final Thoughts on Improv for Business Professionals
Research is starting to confirm what improvisers have known for decades. It can help you and your team be more creative and collaborate better. But one of the keys to improv's success is that it's fun. You and your team will have a great time while learning how improv can help you become more creative and productive. I've never led a workshop where laughter wasn't a major part of the day.
I'm lucky enough to write, teach, and think about improv and its benefits all the time. I'm an expert contributor to Psychology Today. My blog there is also called Play your Way Sane and explores the intersection between improv, science, and the everyday. This gives me the breadth to be able to create an improv workshop that meets the specific needs of you and your team.
In addition to my doctorate in theatre, I also have a Master's in education and am a certified teacher. So as much of an improv fan as I am, a lot of theory, pedagogy, and planning goes into every session.
It's an exciting time for applied improvisation as more and more companies are using improv to reach their short and longterm goals.