Improv is much more than the ability to react when something ‘goes wrong’. It is the idea that there isn’t really a wrong or a right. That if we are aware and responsive, both of where we are and where we want to be, planning and doing become two parts of the same whole, a loop of micro-feedback and response.

After all, life is improvised. We do not know what is going to happen from moment to moment, there is no script, the stories are unpredictable and the characters inconsistent. So just as you might meditate to experience acceptance and calm outside of your practice, we improvise to find charisma, flexibility, and boldness, to create agile teams, and learn how to work within them.

Having a sense of improvisation in your life helps you to avoid getting precious about expectations and plans. We become able to hold multiple possibilities in our heads and don’t force any of them to happen. This ability to improvise helps you to be in closer contact with the world and others in it. To accept what is there and, in doing so, learn to work with it.

Below are some of the core principles that help us to make this happen.

“A challenging workshop, in a good way, where we were made to think and not fall into easy or bad habits. Great exercises to help build trust with fellow workshop participants.”

Sharon, UK

AndAlso's core concepts of improvisation

1 - 'Yes And' (Also known as 'Accept and Build')
“Bring a brick, not a cathedral.”

In pressurised situations, people instinctively say ‘no’. They challenge and deny in order to be in control and remain safe. Our individualised culture teaches us to be cautious and untrusting. There are of course, times when this serves us, but there are also times when it shuts doors when it prevents us from taking opportunities. It can stop life from happening.

Whatever kind of improvisation you are doing, the heart of it is normally ‘Yes And’ or, (to make it a little more formal) ‘Accept and Build’. In a scene, if you establish that we are playing mother and son, I might add that we are estranged, then you might add that we are also rival lawyers in a court case. That sounds like a good scene. I would be unlikely to say, ‘No! We are fish in the deep ocean’. We agree with what is there (‘Yes’) and add something to it (‘And’). As this process bounces back and forward, we are able to create something which neither one of us would have created individually. We give up individual control to gain shared power.

In a business context, ‘Yes And’ can be an incredibly efficient tool for cooperation. Even if we have slightly different drivers or priorities, if we work for the same company, it is wise to find a way to accept what others are bringing and feeling and build on it. This does not, of course, mean that you have to implement every crazy idea which is suggested. You would quickly run out of time and resources. It means a liveness, an intention to move forward together by building ideas rather than fighting over them.

2 - Listening
“Listening is the willingness to change” – Alan Alda

Listening does not just mean scanning the words for our response. Listening is looking for the intention, context and subtlety, for what is not being said. Listening means being fully present with the person talking in order to understand what they want and believe, and where we stand in relationship to it. Listening means being willing to be changed by what is being said.

Be honest – how much of what people say do you really listen to? The bits that apply to you? The bits that you agree with? Or maybe just long enough to know how to respond? Research shows that we listen with only about 25% efficiency. That means we miss three-quarters of what is being said! Overloaded with information in an attention economy, it is all too easy to listen enough rather than with your whole brain and heart. And the way active listening is taught very often concentrates on the signs of listening, not the listening itself. How much eye contact to have, when to repeat words and make noises of affirmation. It is rare to really think about how listening works and how to do it better.

In improv, we learn to listen softly and non-judgmentally. We listen to take in all of what is being said, why, and how. It is only in doing this that we are able to respond authentically and contribute in a productive way. You can’t say ‘Yes’ unless you listen.

3 - Cooperation

Western society in general, and business culture in particular, are atomised. The core unit is the sharp-elbowed individual, competing against each other for limited resources. Through school and university, we are taught to know where we are in pecking orders, whether by academic grades, sporting prowess or followers. We win and lose alone. This is lonely and inefficient. It does not represent the fact that real success normally happens in networks of passionate people cross-fertilising ideas. Life and business require us to know when and how to cooperate.

In improvisation, we learn to find and work towards shared goals. To give up our individual egos and get lost in the collective. Not permanently, but enough to achieve something together. We work towards what we call ‘group mind’ so that discoveries emerge without really knowing where it came from. Ideas just arise.

This does not mean that should we lose our identities and submit ourselves to groupthink. It means that we find ways to be both bold in the ideas we offer and bold in the way we accept and support the ideas of others. Cooperation works when we find ways for the group to be clear and decisive, while still listening to the quietest voice in the room. This balance is hard to strike, but incredibly powerful when you can do so. Improv training gives a model to experience and vocabulary to discuss this shared flow.

4 - Creativity is for everyone
“Inspiration exists, but it must find you working” – Pablo Picasso

Creativity isn’t just the preserve of geniuses and artists and entrepreneurs. It is something that we all need. Creativity is as important for the manager shaping a team as the actor preparing a role. It is how we deal with any task where the endpoint is ill-defined and the resources limited. That’s most of life.

But if you look at the representations of creativity, they nearly always follow the same pattern. An individual who is fated to be brilliant is repressed and disbelieved by society, but proven right in the end. This is the story we are told about Einstein, Van Gogh and Zuckerberg. That they were just born different.

Entertaining though this is (and it does make good stories), it is often untrue and (worse) unhelpful. AndAlso approaches creativity practically and actively. It is not something given to us, but something we build in the way we respond. It an instinct we can all connect to and a skill we can all hone. We can work on creating many ideas without judgment, building them until they are distinct and fully formed. Then we can look to combine or repurpose them. All of these processes start where you are and use what you have to start to do things differently piece by piece and see what happens. Creativity is not a mystery. It can be taught.

5 - A team is more than a group
‘I will learn more of somebody in an hour of play than a week of conversation’ – Incorrectly attributed to Plato

For most people, even the words ‘team building’ bring back bad memories. Memories of enforced ‘fun’ that might have suited one or two people in a team, but tortured the others. Everyone got through it, but most resented the time wasted. And nothing really changed. The principle seeming to be that a team that suffered together, stayed together. Team building done wrong has the potential to fossilise team roles and create divisions rather than bridge them.

Improv as team building is not a baptism of fire, but an opportunity for participants to share. Participants laugh and create together in a low-pressure environment, learning about each other and building connections without even realising. Using exercises structured to eliminate self-consciousness and level the playing field, we can bring together the shyest programmer and chattiest sales rep. Improv makes difference delightful rather than scary.

We can offer team building as a workshop or show, which can even feature members of your team alongside our experienced improvisers. This is an ideal way to finish the day at a conference or bring people together as a team is being formed.

Find out how we can help you

“Awesome class. The facilitators knew how to keep the participants in the perfect zone, both comfortable and out of our comfort zone at the same time. One of my favourite things ever.”