What makes a strong team? Where do you start? These are both valid questions and many of us don’t really know how to answer them. When you look at a group of people with different minds, personalities, age, and even backgrounds, it can appear like finding things in common can make it impossible to work together. Add the fact that you started a new job and you quickly realize you are the one “left out”, which can seem very daunting. How can you compete with the other coworkers that have worked together for more than 10 plus years? It can take time for a group to become cohesive and in some cases this goal is never achieved. Both Paul and I have worked in places where there was the “elephant in the room” making all exposed to that scenario feeling awkward and extremely uncomfortable. We’ve also experience working in places where strong personalities mixed with introverts caused not only people to shut down, but you could almost cut tension in that room with a knife. This did not make a workplace a pleasant environment to be in. If you had a way to be able to make the workplace culture a more desirable place to come to, we can guarantee that majority of people would choose for this option.
Let me pose a few more questions. When was the last time your whole team laughed together? Like a genuine, shared moment that is talked about for months after it happened? Or, when did you offer an idea to your boss or coworkers to make the workplace more efficient that was not only heard, supported and accepted, but the rest of the group “yes, and…” to the idea to build a united front? Both of these scenarios would become infectious to the point where going to work every day is exciting. Improvisation and the training that goes into learning this craft, forces you to grow interpersonal skills by teaching you methods in how to trust yourself and your teammates, support each other, accept everyone’s ideas and in doing all of this, you find yourself having fun. The best part about improvisation is that it sets up a boundary of play that keeps everyone engaged and it challenges everyone to step outside of the box. Once this safe zone is achieved and trust has been built, natural growth can flourish.
Improvisation finds a unique way to break the ice between members that have known each other for years OR are just meeting for the first time. When a group learns to play together, the pressure to open up isn’t so hard to do anymore. Many of our community members that have walked through our doors come from different places in their lives. Some even show up just to let off some steam from having a bad day at work, or in their family life, or even to help uplift their mental health. Many of our players struggle with different levels of anxiety, confidence, depression and even feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. After spending two hours with us, everyone leaves our safe space with a smile on their faces and feeling like a huge weight lifted off of their shoulders. The moment that first genuine belly laugh erupts in the room from coming together and telling a story out of nowhere, the energy in the room changes dramatically. Many of our improvisational exercises and warm ups provoke natural laughter out of our players and members without forcing it. Laughter is known to be a natural way of relieving stress, boredom and it boosts moral causing all involved to be inspired which then spurs creativity and collaboration. We also can’t forget to mention that improvisation teaches you that it’s okay to fail because your team is there and they have your back. In fact, we encourage you to fail in our sessions because being “perfect” is not only fiction, but it’s boring. Many of our belly laughs come straight out of our failure to be perfect.
During our team building workshop with Pure Red Deer, we had a member that was able to do a cartwheel flawlessly. In this exercise, we had to accept the movement offered by a person in the group standing to your right and do your best to copy it. As this movement traveled around the circle those that didn’t know how to do a cartwheel immediately began to doubt themselves. They believed that they would not be able to do a perfect cartwheel when it came to their turn. We encouraged everyone to do their best and what happened next was absolutely magical! By the time the cartwheel got around to the end of the circle, it morphed into a barrel roll on the floor. Not only that, but laughter was generated from those that did a floppy version of a so-called cartwheel, and IT WAS OK!!! Failure to do a perfect cartwheel was exactly the point of this exercise. All you had to do was accept what your partner gave you, trust yourself and do YOUR version of a “cartwheel” even if it meant that your feet never left the ground. This is the beauty of using improvisation to build moral, acceptance, support, trust and genuine fun between all those involved. It makes for a memorable experience that is then carried back to the workplace. Our players were also excited to take back some of the games and exercises we did to keep practicing them in their workplace.
With all this said, my husband and I never realized until now that what we were sitting on was a gold mine. After four years of running Improv Jelly and teaching improvisation to our community members, the results have been extremely positive. We realized that what we have to offer employers and their businesses is something more meaningful than donuts, free coffee or bonuses. The best part is that if we can promote health and wellness to workplaces by using improvisation, then bring it on because we are so ready for the challenge. We are excited to bring what we love to your front door! Give improvisation a try because the worst thing that could happen, is that you didn’t bring enough tissue to blow your nose from laughing so much.