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Can Improvisation Create a More Productive Workplace?

Key Shared Insights & Perspectives

Improv as a guiding principle

We started our conversation by exploring the guiding principle of the improvisation philosophy: “Yes and...” The most basic form of understanding improv and the theory behind it is the idea that we must say YES, but also add ourselves and our unique perspective with AND. Simply saying “yes,” without adding information as a leader, actually stops productivity. This core principle invites everyone to collaborate and create something together. Often, the first idea out of the gate needs refinement, but by using improv, the concept can move forward positively by furthering the conversation. Listen to Kate explaining this key guiding principle of improvisation.

Improv gives permission to others

Improvisation can improve communications in be applied to a variety of business contexts from discussing performance with employees to thinking entirely outside of the box in a design solution meeting. In any collaboration, people bring the “baggage” of their negative experiences and limiting beliefs. Improvisation offers practical rules to create a real, honest conversation. It gives participants permission to free themselves from the burden of saying “no” and the risk of losing control by saying “yes.” Listen to Rod sharing multiple examples of how he uses improv in his work.

Improv transforms culture

Empathy and listening skills

Using Improvisation, we learn empathy and listening skills. The Yes And principle invite people to expand their listening skills. Listening is the process by which you gain an understanding of the needs, demands, and preferences of your stakeholders through direct interaction. By becoming a better listener, individuals can improve their productivity, as well as their ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate. Listening is also one of the highest valued soft skills sought by employers, and improvisation is a fantastic way to build those skills in your employees and in yourself.


Improv helps create a new, more meaningful culture where people are free to express themselves, and it starts with trust. When you know those around you, others in your office “have your back,” you feel relieved and comforted to know you can take risks and be yourself. It is rewarding to assure others you support them as well. Listen to Gabe sharing his experience.

Individual Take-aways

As we came at the end of the hour, our group ended the discussion in the same way we started, with a tour de table. Each participant had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard and share their take-aways from the conversation. Listen to the last 10 minutes of the episode.

Final Thoughts to Consider

Improvisation teaches empathy, relatability and listening skills and has a deep impact on the culture of an organization. Our growing dependence on technology can cause us to become less effective at interacting with humans in the workplace. When the landscape is complex and unpredictable, adaptability, not efficiency, must become our new central competency. Leaders risk losing trust and mutual respect when they shut down their team’s suggestions by passively agreeing, but not building on them. If instead, they encourage further development with unscripted supporting ideas, they truly engage and connect. By remaining open and receptive to input from others and letting go of their own insecurities and preconceived notions, leaders can create a culture of creative risk-taking and a shared sense of purpose. However, it‘s easy to think that by hiring a consultant to teach improv to employees a new culture will emerge. As leaders, fostering a lasting culture of improvisation depends on consistently using it ourselves. As Rod Sayegh said: “You only have control over yourself.” If you think improvisation is right for you or your organization, you can start with some basic exercises, take a class, or bring in one of the panel participants.

Remember, at its core, every conversation is an improvisation, which means we’re all improv artists in a way.

Basic Improvisation Exercises


Individuals stand in a circle and tell a story by saying a single word. Example, first person says, “Once,” next says “upon,” next says, “a time”... and so on. The goal is to tell a complete story and decide as a group when it ends.

Rubbing the google

This predates google the search engine. A group puts their hands in the circle and says “Rubbing the google” until someone else names a category, ie types of cereal, car makers, etc and then everyone tries to name as many items as they can. Then it goes back to “rubbing the google” until the next category is named.

Mind reader

Two people face each other and try and say the same word at the same time. This is about following the cues and patterns being established by each other. Ideally, the individuals eventually say the same word at the same time.

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