Improv techniques to help team-building

July 28, 2008

I recently picked up a book called Blink by Malcom Gladwell (it’s by the same guy who wrote The Tipping Point). There’s a section in one of his chapters about structured spontaneity. What he means is that it’s possible to make good instantaneous decisions when you have a structured approach. In this chapter, Gladwell describes an improv troupe based out of New York City called Mother. Although their plays are entirely spontaneous – no rehearsal, no preparation, they are always hysterical and successful because the group operates under one simple rule: you must accept all possibilities.

Using this example as a springboard, Gladwell also points to how this particular rule could apply to team dynamics in the business setting. He suggests that if managers took this kind of approach with their teams they might come to better solutions. For instance, in a typical meeting, people usually throw around ideas to try and solve a particular problem. Normally, when an idea is deemed impossible, it is immediately discarded. Yet, if the team were to apply Mother’s rule – that is to accept all possibilities, then taking a ‘half-baked’ idea and building on it could indeed result in a much better conclusion.

This ultimately has two effects: the first is that when a leader entertains an idea that may not be possible, (rather than immediately discarding it) they are encouraging innovation, and the second is that this builds up team spirit: because no idea is a bad idea. Using this kind of structure can help develop incredibly innovative strategies and it keeps allows for high performance teams.