Improvisation: for your Team and Life

It takes strength to stay open

It is easy to create lines for yourself, to box yourself into a corner, to let habits, concave thoughts, patterns, and conditioning keep you rolling along responding to perceived threats or obstacles in a myopic manner. Remember your own brilliance.  Assume the best in others.  Seek to create new possibilities and new perspectives for yourself and for those around you.   Learn from Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation as a fun source of day-to-day introspection. Her heuristics along with my personal notes:
  • Agree. Respect what your partner has created. You are listening, receptive, and seek to understand. Even if you do not actually agree with what you think you are hearing, it helps to repeat what you think you have heard, to say it back to the person to make sure you are getting it. If you have trouble with this, learn a little about the Satir Interaction Model.
  • Say yes and.  Don’t be afraid to contribute. It is your responsibility to contribute.   This does not mean to take on more than you have bandwidth for or cannot effectively deliver on.  It does not mean to say yes to something you really are not okay with. You might say “Yes I can do that and this would mean….”.  It means to honor your own voice, to not be afraid to speak up.  It is okay to ask for help.  It is okay to say what you need.  It’s okay to be empathetic, but important to remember there are other ways to see things.
  • Make statements.  with your actions and your voice. This one has been especially important for me.  Early in my first role as a manager, my statements came out more like apologetic questions.  The impact was disastrous for me and harmful for my team. I learned how to turn this around once I realized what I was doing.   Another aspect of this guideline is to recognize if you are the person at the office who says or thinks ‘I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice’, then find a self-empowered way to respond and come up with a solution to move beyond feeling mad or hurt.
  • There are no mistakes.  There are only opportunities.  If you (or a teammate) have a tendency to beat yourself up, do yourself a favor and learn (share) techniques to tame your inner critic.
FullSizeRender (3)

Reminder to get on with it and to not worry too much.

Act as If

A few year’s ago when my previous team was overhauling our software development process, we took Ken Rubin’s Scrum training.  One of the experiential exercises illustrated the benefits of rules 1 and 2.  It was an exercise in communications and teamwork. It turns out that Google Engineers also appreciated Ms. Fey’s shared lessons enough to invite her to SPEAK AT GOOGLE:  [2 minute clip; Full Fireside chat]

A brilliant friend recently told me he felt like an imposter.  I was moved by his vulnerability. I did my best to remind him of all he brings to the table. I confessed I sometimes feel like that, too. That’s a sign that it is a good time to take a walk around the block. Also, when I feel less than confident about something, I change how I am carrying my frame and I GET MOVING.  My first powerful lesson in this was in high school one summer at a band leadership camp at the University of Whitewater-Wisconsin. It went something like this.  Tim Lautzenheiser had us sit up on the edge our seats, spines erect, hearts lifted, big smiles.  Try to think a bad thought.  Chuckles erupted. This was not easily achievable.  Next, he had us cross our arms and legs and sink down into the backs of our chairs.  Now try to smile.  Try to think a happy thought. Again laughter. The body’s posture was in direct opposition to what we were being asked to do.

These days I incorporate tips from Amy Cuddy’s powerful TED talk to get my head on straight, to feel confident before meetings or to prepare for presentations. Educate yourself on body language as part of your “improv training”.  😃

Thanks for the Improv

As I typed today, I realized my boss, who is also a coach and mentor, seems to live, breathe, and evangelize these improv guidelines. I have had the privilege to observe that despite challenges, in every-single-situation he demonstrates an amazing balance of strength and flexibility. He does this with complete


These are the things I value and appreciate the most.  The very things it takes to connect with individuals and to have an autonomous, cohesive, empowered team are also what it takes to connect with your fellow actors to move an audience:

Empathy and Trust.

Rules of Improv Source: Tina Fey, “Bossypants”

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: