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How the Rules of Improv Can Improve Your Culture and Business

Feb 1, 2019 by Lauren Haley 0 Comments


Fear. It can control any situation, including situations in the workplace. Fear of making mistakes, fear of criticism, fear of losing credibility to your peers and superiors, fear of feeling unprepared.... these all inhibit creativity and prevent what Dallan Guzinski calls "psychological safety," a feeling of safety allowing individuals to be comfortable  contributing ideas and feedback.

Based on his experience working as Director of Culture and Engagement at The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO), Dallan introduces ways to build trust among your team and and more effectively solve serious workplace problems through classic improv techniques. 

Many improv techniques require one essential characteristic: radical trust that encourages everyone to respond openly. But, how does this apply to a business? The rules for improv turn out to be great guidelines for anyone involved in team-based work to improve workplace culture.

Adaptation of improv's openness, radical trust, and accepting approach can be applied in strategy, marketing, work processes, and especially in teamwork to take your business to the next level. Here's how Dallan applies four improv principles to create safe spaces for participation and the generation of ideas by combating fear. See how this more accepting environment creates support and affirmation which allows people to be bold or take risks, use their imaginations when problem solving, and feel validated or accepted by teammates.


Using the Rules of Improv to Make a Safe and Effective Workplace


1. Agree- Don't Deny

Postpone judgment, put criticisms to the side, and edit ideas and suggestions later. This allows any potential idea to be brought to the table. Frequently, one idea will spark another winning idea or develop into a solution after having time to breathe, so there are no bad ideas here!

Not every idea will be the right one. In the context of problem-solving, there might be multiple approaches. The team dynamic, however, is essential. Temporarily postpone judgment to get all ideas and potential solutions on the board and then take a step back and closely look at the options.

2. "Yes, and..."

What happens in a conversation when someone says, "Yes, but...."? It immediately puts a halt to the conversation, makes your partner less engaged, and even puts them on the defensive. Try a more supportive and productive approach of replying "Yes, and..." within your work conversations. Entrusting your partner with the next step in the process supports, affirms, and builds them up, allowing for a safe space to foster ideas. 

It's essential that individuals in every position feel enough "psychological safety" to speak up in any situation and bring up a crazy or risky idea. A safe space where mistakes are welcome and treated as learning opportunities will foster the most effective workplace.

3. Make Statements

When too much of your group's work or creative thinking relies on one person, it can be overwhelming..  Avoid asking too many questions without making any contributions yourself. Statements from everyone encourage confidence and participation by providing support rather than pressure.

4. There Are No Mistakes

According to research performed by Google, work teams that identify the most mistakes were the most effective and prevented the most disasters in the context of their work. 

Yes, there are mistakes and failures in the workplace. But this is about a "there are no mistakes" mindset. We want to create a work environment where risk and failure are simply a step in the process of creating ideas. After all, a mistake is a learning opportunity. 

You don't know where your ideas (or someone else's)  might go - but with the combination of experiences and ideas from everyone, any idea could be a good one. Don't let a "Yes, but..." attitude prevent a series of responses or solutions that could turn into the big winner. 


In this blog series written by Great Game employees, we are highlighting some of the highest rated sessions at the 2018 Gathering of Games conference. Here, Marketing Coordinator Lauren Haley covers the session "How the Rules for Improv Can Improve Your Culture and Business," led by Dallan Guzinski. Listen to the full audio from the session here.


Check out the Annual Gathering of Games to learn more about the world's largest open-book conference.


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Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.