The Culture Chat Podcast: How Improvisation Techniques Can Build a "Yes, And" Culture
In this episode of the Culture Chat Podcast, we talked to Erin Diehl, founder of Improve It, a corporate team-building workshop company that helps organizations use improvisation to build better, "yes, and" cultures.
Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite!
Charlie: Let's just open this broad topic and see where it goes. From where you sit in all the organizations that you've worked with, Erin, in this kind of wonderful science/art of improv, what can we learn about workplace cultures, making them stronger, etc., from improv and all that it involves? Let's just start with that.
Erin: Absolutely. Well, I think the first thing that has to happen in order to create a positive workplace culture is there has to be a playing field where everybody has an equal opportunity to feel valued, and supported, and their ideas are heard. So improv's really big tenant is "Yes, and." That's the first and only biggest rule in improv. And if you've ever seen an improv show, you can see on-stage the audience gives a suggestion of one word, and in a long form improv set, we then take that to a 30-minute set of improv just based on that audience suggestion. And it's really apparent on-stage when improvisers aren't agreeing with each other, and they deny and negate what the other person has said, that their theme really cannot go forward, that there is no connection there between what they're doing.
So if I were to say to you, Charlie, "Charlie, oh my gosh, I'm ready to operate on this patient!" And I was telling you in that scene, "I'm a doctor," and you said, "Okay," and you called me something completely different other than a doctor and negated my scene and said, "Oh, well, I thought we were at the dog park." And that way, we are completely on two different playing fields. The audience already feels uncomfortable, and we feel uncomfortable because there's nowhere to take it. But if you were to come in and say, "Oh, doctor, here's your scalpel," and give me that scalpel, and give me that gift that's supporting my idea, then right then and there that scene is gonna charge forward and it's gonna be very enjoyable for the audience to watch and for the improvisers to play.
And the same thing goes in an organization. So if somebody comes to the drawing board with a brand new idea, or has some type of culture innovation that they want to implement and they are told, "No," right off the bat, automatically, they feel devalued and that their ideas weren't heard. And it sort of stifles that communication and it stifles that ability to have that team connect with one another and really grow and make something better than if one person was just sharing an idea.
So it really enforces a, "Yes," culture, which is what we really try to bring in with our workshop is we want people to hear each other's ideas. And it's not necessarily saying, "I completely agree with you," it's, "Yes, I hear your idea, and I'm gonna add something to it." So it's not even saying the words, "Yes, and," it's a philosophy and it's a way of life, but it's really just hearing what that person says, adding something to it, and creating something bigger and bigger. And I like to use my improvisers as an example, because they do this all the time in the way that they communicate. And so we'll say something and somebody will add to that, and someone will add to that, and someone will add to that. And it's not necessarily saying, "Yes, and," but it's, "Yes, and-ing," in a sense of, "I hear your idea, I think that was great, I'm gonna add something to it." So it's really implementing that first and foremost into a workplace culture so that they can develop the type of culture that they want to implement and understand what the other people have to say, and really making it a place where people feel that the exchange of ideas is high and that they can exchange ideas because they feel empowered to do so.
Charlie: So let's pause here for a second, because I want to get Jamie's reactions. I've got lots of things flying around in my head, but it seems like we could have a podcast on this one theme alone, and that is level playing field. I think that's really, really powerful. Jamie, what are your reactions to some of these things?
Jamie: I think, "Yes, and," Charlie. What's really interesting to me about this, something that we talk about with organizational culture is that it's everyone's job. And there's a lot of sentiment when you talk about culture that it's the leaders who set the culture. And there's some truth to that in the sense that they have more power and they can exercise that in shaping the culture. But I've talked to leaders, actually, who sort of get mad when people tell them, "It's all up to the leaders to set the culture." Because this one woman said, "Look, I cannot sustain a culture by myself." Everyone has to make culture their job, and you can't expect people to sort of step up and take ownership to shaping the culture if everything they say gets the Heisman, and says, "Well, you can't do that or that," or, "That doesn't work around here," or all of those sort of, "We've always done it that way," kind of excuses.
Even if what they say is ultimately not gonna be the piece of the culture, if you start with, "Okay, that was your contribution, that contribution is valid, let's build on that and see where it goes," then you can end up somewhere. But if you start with, "I've already ended up somewhere and you just have to agree with me," then that's the people who sort of turn off. I love this idea of being constantly on. You need that in culture, but we don't do that. We only turn on in culture when we're discussing our core values, then we put that away and we go back to the way we normally are. And I think that's one of the reasons why it fails. And so I think this idea that in fact culture is in us, and it's constantly on, and we're constantly working with each other to develop it, I think that would be really cool, actually.
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