To remain competitive in today’s marketplace, it’s about hiring the best of the best, giving them the tools they need to succeed and then getting the hell out of their way. However, traditional corporate training is becoming more and more inefficient with each generation, leaving managers to explore new techniques to develop their talent. Recently, some companies have started teaching employees improv, an interesting choice for management training.
As Tom Orton of Second City Communications says, “the Web has shaped how people learn.” Teaching, he added, “has to be shorter, punchier, more entertaining and more interactive.” Not only is improv a way to appeal to the new generation, but it teaches lessons found in traditional management training AND enables participants to physically experience the lessons. Improv teaches people to react and adapt, along with creativity, innovation, communication, teamwork and leadership. Not only are these skills needed for management training but they are also advantageous for your service, sales and, truthfully, any employee within your company.
Improv is the most progressive way to transform how you develop talent. Hear from some of the industry’s experts to learn more about improv and just what it can do for your business.
MANAGEMENT TRAINING: IMPROV IN THE WORKPLACE
MEET THE EXPERTS:
Amy Roeder – Original mainstage cast member of Boston’s Improv Asylum Theatre, Artistic Associate with Gotham City Improv, Playground Improv Theatre (Chicago), founder of Improv Athens at the University of Georgia, cast member of Bar Harbor’s Improv Acadia and current member of Second City Theatricals. As a corporate trainer, Amy has worked with such organizations as Fast Company Magazine, the U.S. District Court, Cubist Pharmaceuticals and RJR Tobacco.
Ari Voukydis – A member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre since 1997, Ari has been teaching there for over ten years. A regular on VH-1 shows such as The Best Week Ever and Top 100 Videos, he has also appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Comedy Central’s The Upright Citizens Brigade. Ari has also contributed to Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and has written for GQ, Grantland, SPY, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly and many other magazines. Ari has been part of countless shows, such as Let’s Have a Ball and Wicked F***in’ Queeyah, an annual salute to his home town of Boston that he co-created with Amy Poehler and Rob Corddry. He is the Corporate Mastermind at the UCB Tour Company.
Frank Blocker: With 20 years in Information Technology at Fortune 100 companies (such as Coca-Cola, TimeWarner, MetLife) and 30 years in theatre, Frank has had more than a dozen of his plays produced across the country. A regular sketch performer in the city, Frank is a Drama Desk Award Nominee currently appearing on NYC stages in the hit solo show “Stabilized Not Controlled” and “Forbidden Kiss LIVE”.
The Fundamentals of Improv
Before making improvisation a part of your management training, it is important to know what it’s really all about:
1) It’s Not About Comedy: As Ari Voukydis puts right on the table, “Improv is not about comedy. It’s about clarity, communication and a willingness to change.”
2) “Yes” And…: As Ari points out, we “are naturally risk adverse” as people, which can make it easy for us to say no to things. But as Frank Blocker explains, improv is about “saying yes to everything. You have to give your partner something to work with. You must advance the dialogue.” Amy Roeder expounds, saying “What that boils down to is that it is the improvisor’s job to hear the offer their partner is making, acknowledge it and then build off that idea by contributing their own ideas.” That’s why “Yes, And…” is a staple in improvisation. As Amy points out, “it has become terribly easy to say no, which is why improvisational training tends to be so revolutionary for businesses. In the work I do with businesses, we spend a lot of time working on the idea of acceptance, of saying “yes” to an idea to see just how efficiently and collaboratively people can work together.”
3) Listen, listen, listen: Roeder believes the idea behind “yes, and…” is “active and engaged listening”. She says,”It is impossible to build on your partner’s idea if you didn’t fully hear that idea.”As Frank states, “Through listening, you can see where the storyline should and/or could advance. Close your mouth and you’ll have a few seconds of good thinking time, inspired by what you’re hearing.” Ari adds, “Listening is manifesting a willingness to change”. As he reminds, this is one of the most “important skills in any creative endeavor.” In improv, it teaches us (in Voukydis’ words), to “disengage that normal part of your brain that tries to avoid failure and capture that as nature’s teaching tool.”
4) Always Pick a Leader: In improv, Blocker says, “Someone should always be the leader. Dueling leaders becomes yelling. And one leader can keep you on point. The “lead” can switch, but only when you’ve created a good working dialogue or some sort of framework.”
5) Make Your Partner Look Like a Genius: Ari says the best way to excel at improv “is to make your partner look like a genius. Almost nobody operates that way instinctually. If you listen, are unselfish and set each other up, you will succeed. And if you don’t, you won’t.”
Improv’s Best Takaways
So what are some of the best skills improv promotes?
- “You waste a lot of time on take-backs. What’s said is said. Move forward. Expect a better moment to come.” As Frank is explaining, improv makes it impossible to focus on the past. You can only look forward to what you CAN do, instead of what you didn’t or shouldn’t. He also believes the direct “no” shuts people down (for better or worse), which allows participants to see just how powerful (or damaging) the word “no” can be.
- Roeder loves the practical skills it can enable, such as “confidence in public speaking, listening skills, creative problem solving and teamwork, and the fact that it teaches you there is no problem or issue that is truly insurmountable.”
- Ari, piggybacking on his earlier insight that failure is an amazing teaching tool, knows improv can give you the “opportunity to identify weakness in your game and allow something cool to happen.” There is no better way to literally learn from your mistakes.
What Improv Means for Your Management Training
To begin, Blocker explains that, in regards to management training, there is no “better team-building exercise”. Also, “improv skills heighten your awareness when having to think on your feet.” This sort of attentiveness and keeping calm under pressure is invaluable in employees such as customer service people and managers. Frank, who has extensive experience in corporate America, knows that “a lot of employees have difficulty seeing past their cubicle. Often, corporations train them into that mentality.” He firmly believes the listening skills that improv helps develop, along with the ability to take the lead or easily give it to someone else is great for communication and increasing productivity, flexibility and creativity. “Successful improv means creating a storyline or situation (similar to a product) that appeals to the market in front of you and provides immediate face-to-face interaction and positive results.” This kind of experience is essential for a creative team.
As Roeder also emphasizes, “case studies have shown that improvisation workshops help the trainees with confidence, adaptability and effectiveness. Since improvisation is all about collaboration and communication, businesses that utilize improvisational corporate training can expect to see improvements in those areas. I personally believe that improvisation is an extremely effective tool in enfranchising the individual, which is sometimes overlooked in traditional team building workshops.” Empowering your employees is a limitless investment. This sort of management training allows them to fully experience what is means to listen, think on their feet, communicate, collaborate and create. There is no better way to learn than to do and corporate improv training can provide that experience for you.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Interested in making improv part of your management training? Here’s what to except:
Ari explains that it is really important, as an instructor, for him to make sure everyone involved feels incredibly relaxed. He focuses on making sure individuals feel ready to play but realize it’s not about being silly. His most important rule: “If you are in the room, you have to participate”. So don’t plan on observing this management training without getting on your own feet. The instructors explore different sets of exercises with the end goal being, as Ari says, “to give them skills that let them realize how impressive they are and how they can work together.”
GET STARTED TODAY
So what’s the best way to pursue this type of management training? Frank recommends that when you work with an instructor, you “spend some time with them explaining what it is you hope to get out of it so they can design their work accordingly.”
To find an improv instructor for your management training, Amy says “pretty much every nationally recognized improv theatre has a corporate training department, so I would encourage businesses to seek out those theatres and make inquiries. There are also a number of businesses that specialize only in improvisational corporate training.”Rance Rizzutto Ari Vouykdis Headshot// Courtesy of AV Frank Blocker// Babaldi