Using improvisation to improve teams

Daryn who runs the Agile Practitioners Meetup has taken part in a number of improvisation classes and was impressed at how fast the facilitators build trust within the room. Within the first class he could see groups of people self organising and showing signs of genuine improvement, while enjoying the experience. He felt that the Agile world could learn from the world of improvised acting, therefore invited Paul Z Jackson, President of the Applied Improvisation Network, to come and give us a workshop and share some of the experiences of improvisation.

In this practical session, Paul Z Jackson shares secrets of improvisation and explores the deep connection with Agile.   It started with getting to know each other. Imagine the world, then stand where you were born and introduce yourself and say what location you are standing in when it’s your turn. Then we had to stand somewhere you wanted to go and say why to the group. Nice little ice breakers. We then had to find a partner, a group of 3 and a group of 5 to remember for the evening.

In the group of 5 you had to state your name again and why your name was special, a lot of interesting comments here and a realisation that all the names somehow linked to the bible! Then we needed to state why we were there that evening. It was a good exercise so Paul could gage where to go next, whilst we got to know each other and relax a little.

Then we got into our pairs. The task was for one person to draw a picture and the other to rest their hand on yours and follow the motion (yes, and). Each person got the chance to play both roles. Then you have to re-do the task but this time instead of resting your hand on the artist’s hand there needs to be resistance (no, but). The end result is a picture that wasn’t the one planned! I suppose this reflects the difference of working together and being resistant to the direction the person is trying to go.  This shows one case where you are working collaboratively achieving what the artist wants, the other working disruptively probably not achieving what either party wanted. It’s meant to highlight the importance of trying to work together.

The next game was also in our pairs we were asked to draw a face and name the face in silence. We were allowed to draw one item but if the pen left the paper the other person had to take over the next part, alternating between the pair. When someone hesitated with the picture then you had to name the face, one letter at a time, taking turns between the pair. Then we needed to present our ‘person’ back to the group and say how we felt about that exercise. Could we work out what the thing was your partner drew and build on it? How did it feel not be in 100% control, did the picture end up like you’d imaged? For me it’s not what I had imagined but working with someone else bought in creativity that I could build on.

We had to redo the exercise again, this time with a vision to be more creative. This was more interesting as the first time you start simply and safe. All groups started with a circle and the partners all interpreted this as the face outline. This time we all started with a different part and the pictures that were created were definitely unique!

These were all non verbal improvisation games so we moved onto the verbal games. We sat in a circle and were given a story and we could all add a line to the story to build it up. It was an exercise that should what sort of sentences help a story and what causes the story to crash and burn. For me it was a good way to highlight how easy it is to accidentally kill creativity in a team if you don’t encourage ideas. We re-did the exercise with a new story but we could had to start our sentence with “yes, and then”  to see how it was easier to keep the story going.

I really enjoyed the session and it does make you realise how easy it is to make or break the team dynamics. Some good ideas of how to get the team more relaxed together.

For more about Applied Improvised acting please visit the following links: 


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