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Couldn’t we all use more fun at work?

It's always interesting getting to know what I didn't know that I didn't know. The conference I was raving about last week was organised by the Applied Improvisation Network.

What is applied improvisation? I wasn't sure myself when I signed up. It turns out there is a whole movement and industry based on something I had come to believe but didn't realise was already ‘a thing'.

The skills used in creating improvised play and games are the very building blocks of personal and leadership development, including creative and design thinking, relationship- and team-building, negotiation, crisis and change management ... the list goes on.

They are essential skills such as active listening, thinking under pressure, collaboration, acceptance, seeing multiple perspectives, acknowledgement of failure, etc.

These are skills which develop like muscles: only with practise and use. And what better training ground to develop them than through games and play, which we all know how to do — even if some may have forgotten.

It is a serious business, however. I met individuals and company representatives, coaches, change managers, corporate consultants who have been employing these applied improv tools and techniques across the corporate world, from huge, multinationals down, and from the top of the ladder. They are also used widely in the third sector — a delegate from the Red Cross described how this work is incorporated as a vital part of that organisation's training.

If you are wondering how it works, or are already having palpitations that this might be coming to your office, let me clarify the process.

Applied Improv is not getting chief executives to put on a comedy show. The top component is for the facilitator to create a safe space, without pressure or judgment, where trainees, at all levels, can explore the various ideas through exercises and games that naturally draw on the skills they are aiming to build.

Even the simplest improvisation games, for example, only work by listening to your team, accepting what is presented, and building on ideas. Wanting the game to work, participants find themselves engaging and growing those muscles. Discussing how those skills and learnings can be applied helps generate new strategies and communication behaviours.

More advanced exercises use a huge range of the essential skills, with increased confidence and quicker thinking as natural bi-products, all in an easy, painless, dare I say, fun way. And couldn't we all use a bit more fun in the workplace?

Here is a little game to experiment with — try it with colleagues over lunch or at home. It's called “Word-At-A-Time Story”. Take turns to say the next word of a story you are collectively concocting — usually a pretty wacky story by the end.

Tips: listen to what the others say and forget planning in advance because you never know what is coming.

Give it a go and notice what you notice. All the feedback is useful — even recognising the voice in your head that might have something to say about the story or the process.

Play is our most fundamental learning platform and I'm looking forward to incorporating it more in my individual and group coaching. For more information on Applied Improv, get in touch!

Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com

Developing skills: the improv movement creates a safe space, without pressure or judgment, where participants can explore various ideas through exercises and games (Photograph courtesy of Applied Improvisation Network)

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Published August 24, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 23, 2016 at 11:32 pm)

Couldn’t we all use more fun at work?

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