By Claire Billingsley
Running a business is no laughing matter. However, when you get right down to it, the people in your organization that have the most fun at work are the most productive and loyal. SO, how do you balance the serious nature of making a profit and allowing fun in your workplace?
What if running a business was like producing an improv show? Not stand-up, not sit com, but that raw, made-up-on-the-spot stuff. Why consider this angle? Because we LIVE in improv. No one sits by our bed every morning and hands us a script to tell us what to do, where to stand, and where the lighting will be best placed for our best side to shine. We get to figure that out as we go.
Even though it is made up, improvisers are trained in basic rules or guidelines to follow that keep the scene or game moving forward. Consider these rules or guidelines as their mission or values statements, or code of conduct.
Do you have anything included in your mission, vision, values, goals or code of conduct around creating a productive and fun work environment? If not, here are some things to consider as you put your ‘performers’ together in your ‘production.’
Trust – The first thing improvisors have to do is trust their fellow players. If they don’t trust each other, creativity is stifled. Creativity is one result of improv. Does your work environment require creative, team oriented, problem solving? If you aren’t getting that from your team, chances are there is not a strong bond of trust.
Listen-Watch-Concentrate – These three things are crucial to a good improv stage performance. If you are thinking about what you want to say next, you miss what is going on right now. This is what many call ‘being fully present.’ Being aware of EVERYTHING that is going on around you is crucial to running a small business. Spoken works, body language, and underlying moods and emotions can make or break a company. How do you want to show up to your clients? It starts with what’s going on in your office.
Make Active Choices – Action is better than standing around. Who wants to watch a bunch of people just stand there and talk? During meetings, always encourage open dialogue (this comes from the trust factor) and then review next steps before employees leave so everyone knows who is doing what. Avoid storytelling or ‘instructing’ – give people some leeway once you state guidelines so they can run with their ideas. Always give deadlines to help keep moving the project forward, and state them in the group meeting before dismissing so everyone has accountability.
Always Accept – Improvisers are trained not to deny anything. This may not be completely realistic in business, but if you train yourself to think in terms of “Yes, and….” Versus “No, but…” you will have much more productive brainstorming sessions and opportunities to see things in a way you perhaps hadn’t considered before. You always have the last word as the owner, but sometimes if we just sit back and listen, we get that little piece of information that sparks another idea that ends up becoming your secret weapon, leaving your competition saying, ”Why didn’t WE think of that?!”
Give and Take – Not everyone can talk at the same time. If you were watching a scene on stage, wouldn’t you want to be able to hear everything that was being said? The performers would like to be heard too. People have a tendency to support what they help to create. If there are dominant forces on your team, find ways to allow the others to speak as well. You may need to train the people that are used to being in the background to speak up, and it might look different than how you speak up. Maybe they’re more comfortable sending you an email. That’s ok. Contributions can come in many shapes and forms.
Don’t Tell Jokes – In improv there is no joke telling, because really, the funny comes from the truth. The truth comes out when there is trust. Encourage your employees not to make fun of other people. This includes teammates, clients, family members, etc. This trust and respect will empower your team to take risks, and learn how to distinguish between higher and lower percentage choices. In the example above, when you give and take, standing around and doing nothing is a choice, but it is a lower percentage choice that will yield very little in productivity.
Finally, Make Your Partner Look Good – There is no room for ego in improv. The games move too fast. Decisions need to be made instantaneously. It’s my job to make you look brilliant. It’s your job to make me look brilliant. Wouldn’t that be an amazing workplace to go to every day?
Running a business isn’t all fun and games. It is what you create.
Make the higher percentage choice and take action to move your team’s productivity and engagement forward with trust, being fully present, and taking care of each other.
Claire Billingsley is an author, coach, mentor, Laughter Yoga Leader and radio show host. She uses improvisational comedy to help open lines of communication up for groups and organizations. Find more at billingsleyconsultinggroup.com