Improv Benefits on Corporations


What do major companies like MetLife, PepsiCo, and Google all have in common? They all have incorporated applied improvisation sessions into their corporate training courses for aid in promoting communication and teamwork among their employees. As you read on, you’ll discover why these major businesses have chosen applied improvisation as their secret weapon for corporate conference room success.

Unfortunately, there’s usually a preconceived notion that applied improvisation doesn’t belong in the same sentences as words like business and corporate. Applied improvisation is often associated with theatrics, comedy, and games, and we think, how could such things effectively move companies and teams forward or shape the business leaders of tomorrow? The answer may surprise you as a closer look reveals that the best training for the business world comes from improvisation training!

In reality, an improviser in an unscripted scene is not very different from a corporate leader or employee in their respected companies. They both have to be quick thinkers, masterful listeners, effective communicators, prepared for the unexpected, accepting, cooperative, and open all while being confident and superb presenters. These skills aren’t necessarily a given with a business school education nor are they magically imparted upon receiving a degree. Grasping these skills takes practice as they don’t come naturally to everyone, and some of the top tier business schools such as Stanford, Duke, MIT, Notre Dame, and UCLA have recognized this and are including applied improvisation courses as part of their curriculums as a result.

Applied improvisation provides a low risk environment where participants can actively work on these central skills for corporate success so they can be easily applied to their day to day lives in the office, and here’s how:

-The basis of applied improvisation lies in the concept of “yes, and.” This is where all improvisers must welcome anything their scene partners offer as part of the scene or game and respond and add to it accordingly. This sounds a lot like what’s necessary for a productive company meeting, ie. offering your thoughts, listening to your colleagues, making them feel heard, and building off one another’s ideas. Practicing “yes, and” in improvisation allows employees to practice acceptance by progressing the workflow forward rather than bringing it to a halt with negating phrases such as “no, but.” This further boosts teamwork and ideal communication among business colleagues.

-Part of practicing “yes, and” in applied improvisation goes beyond merely just saying it but showing it with your body! In scene work, participants are encouraged to have open body language, keep their hands out of their pockets, make eye contact, and stand and sit tall and proud. Exercising these skills through improvisation helps company staff members be more aware of how their body language is effecting their communication with not only their colleagues but their clients, encouraging them to truly show them they are listening.

-As applied improvisation participants continue to practice being open with their words and body language, they begin to see things from a different perspective, altering the way business practitioners think about their work. Executive MBA council executive director, Michael Desiderio, illustrates this superbly: “You think there are some things you know, and you quickly figure out your peers can help you identify what you don’t know by asking challenging questions that you wouldn’t have even thought of, because you have one frame of reference…It (applied improvisation) completely changes how you think about enterprise and business.” Becoming more open-minded allows you to better self-evaluate yourself, your work, and what you need to improve upon while making it easy to call upon colleagues for assistance.

-Applied improvisation training is all about becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable and being ready for the unexpected. After all, improvisers never know what’s happening next onstage. The same goes for anyone in this new-game business world, where they too must be prepared for surprises and understand how to succeed despite them. Applied improvisation trains the mind to positively act when we are faced with challenges and unexpected circumstances with “yes, and.” This promotes risk-taking and collaboration when implemented in the workplace environment which are necessary skills for desirable company outcomes.

These skills that can sometimes seem difficult to train are readily available for you to grasp through applied improvisation! Ed Herbstman, cofounder of the improvisation and comedy Magnet Theater in New York City, says, “When you’re the person saying yes to other people, they start to bring you their best ideas…When you’re meeting things habitually with ‘yes, and,’ with an energy of agreement, you transform the way people perceive you.” This improvisation prowess is shaping the world’s greatest business leaders, are you ready to become one of them?

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