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Dana Mitroff Silvers, Supercharging your remote collaboration with Improv

The following excerpt is transcribed from the Zoom event that took place on 18 June 2020.

Key points

  • At its core, Improv is about slowing down, listening, connecting, being present and supporting each other.
  • One of the foundational principles of Improv is building on someone else’s idea. 
  • Embracing the feeling of ambiguity and pushing the boundaries of comfort can help to build team trust as there is an element of vulnerability when it comes to taking risks and moving out of your ‘comfort zone’.

 

Speaker

Dana Mitroff Silvers is Principal + Founder of Designing Insights LLC. Dana develops, designs, and delivers Design Sprints, design thinking workshops, and design research for clients ranging from Atlassian to the J. Paul Getty Trust. Dana is also a faculty member at the Museum Leadership Institute at Claremont Graduate University, and has coached dozens of workshops for the Stanford d.school.

Dana’s bespoke approach blends methods from the Google Design Sprint Methodology, the Stanford d.school design thinking framework, and improvisational theatre, which she has studied for nearly 15 years at the Berkeley Repertory School of Theater and Bay Area Theater Sports.

 

What is Improv and why should we use it?

“Radical cooperation in action.”
– Bay Area Theatre Sports Founders


At its core, Improv is about slowing down, listening, connecting, being present and supporting each other. It embraces all of the important aspects of collaboration and can be a powerful way to build trust within teams. Improv promotes empathetic listening, fosters comfort with ambiguity and failure, generates breakthrough ideas and catalyses creativity. 

The following principles act as a guide to how Improv can be used, not just as icebreakers or warm-ups but as a way to flex the team’s skills and mindsets that are essential to supercharging collaboration.

 

Be present, slow down and listen

Improv is about slowing down and listening to each other. It requires you to minimise distractions and be tuned in with your partner and/or the group so that you can communicate effectively and meaningfully. Listening prevents you from fixating on what you want to say next and be more empathetic and perceptive to what the other person is saying. This, in turn, may change how you respond to the situation.

 

Build on ideas

One of the foundational principles of Improv is building on someone else’s idea, for example, a common Improv activity, titled “Yes, and…” participants are encouraged to encourage ideas and collaboration through affirmation and agreement. This avoids blocking ideas before they’ve had a chance to materialise. By embracing the phrase “yes, and…” this acknowledges the person’s contribution and creatively opens the discussion with the possibility for innovation. This activity demonstrates how an open mindset can overcome constraints and eliminate negativity, often common in ideation and collaboration related activities.

 

Celebrate mistakes, embrace ambiguity and support each other

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play”
– Abraham Maslow

 

Improv is not about whether what you say is right or wrong. This means that for every contribution, there is no clear outcome. There may be a sense of fear and discomfort at the thought of saying something foolish or not working towards a conclusion, but these factors are barriers when it comes to creativity and innovation. Prematurely stopping yourself from expressing “bad” ideas further stops you from discovering an exciting opportunity. 

Embracing the feeling of ambiguity and pushing the boundaries of comfort can help to build team trust as there is an element of vulnerability when it comes to taking risks and moving out of your ‘comfort zone’. Where there is a natural fear of uncertainty, it is important to have a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable. Improv is not about you and your ideas alone, it is about working together with your partner and bringing the outcome together like an ensemble. 
 


 

Q&A

Do you ever throw in an Improv game when a team is stuck?

DMS – Yes, all of the time. In the physical world, I would read the room. In the virtual space, I have to read the faces of the body language of what I’m getting from the group.

 

How do you get a group of serious clients to participate? 

DMS – If it’s a really, really serious group, I might only try one game. I have to use my best judgement. So, I might just take five minutes out of the agenda to use the game and not do as long of a debrief. With people who are sceptical or ask “why are we doing this?”, I might further share research on play and creativity to demonstrate the credibility and value of this approach to collaborative endeavours. 

One thing I really like about doing [Improv] over Zoom is that people are in breakout rooms, so they don’t feel self-conscious. It’s more private, and they’re in their own home so that can actually work to your advantage. I found that when I do this in a space when people are dressed up very formally, they might be less likely to be comfortable. I have to use my judgement in those situations but when I play these games, I’ll often see people slowly start to smile and crossed arms become uncrossed. Everybody just can’t help smiling when you play these games. 


 

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