Have you ever seen the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” A group of talented comedians think on their feet and come up with witty jokes. That’s the heart of improv. Improvisational theatre has been around since the ancient Greeks, but today, it’s a popular pastime for a lot of people, whether they perform or watch the show from the audience. You don’t have to be the next Jay Leno or Sarah Silverman to benfit from improv. These activities are great team-building exercises at the office as they get your employees out of their shell and also encourage them to harness their creativity.
Below are three beginner improv games for you to try!
1. Count to 20 as a Team
In this game, your employees will count to 20 to practice listening, teamwork, and forward-thinking. Part of working together as a team is dealing with setbacks, which will have to be overcome in this exercise.
Each group stands in a circle, looks at the ground, and closes their eyes. The goal of the exercise is to count to 20 as a team. Sound easy? The challenge is that no one knows who will speak each number, and if two or more people speak at once, the entire group starts back at one like Brian McKnight. Once in position, somebody in the group has to take a leap and start the warm-up by saying “one.” Then, another person continues with “two” and so on until you get to 20 as a team.
• Encourage everyone in the group to participate, even if they’re nervous or shy. You need everyone to participate or that overachiever will count to 20 all by themselves. Ideally, everyone learned how to count that high in kindergarten so that would be missing the point. The entire team should be responsible for doing his or her part to help the team reach its goal.
• People will say the same number at the same time. When two people speak together, there’s no need to get frustrated or disappointed. Simply begin back at one again without judgment. You can even make a joke about it to lighten the mood. You don’t want everyone in the office staring daggers at Janice in Accounting.
• Take a deep breath before starting again at one. If the group got close to 20, but has to return to the beginning, a moment of calm, collected energy will help everyone regroup.
2. Da Do Da Do
This exercise is designed to loosen your team up and help cultivate an ensemble mentality. There are no right answers, and you’ll get the opportunity to see everyone’s personality really shine.
Assemble your group in a circle. To begin, one person says any word at all – biscuit, Mario, doctor, awesome, orangutan – anything. The person to their left then says the first word they associate with that word – biscuit…gravy, Mario…Luigi, doctor…shots, awesome…Quality Logo Products, orangutan…bananas. Then, the group as a whole repeats the two words together “Biscuit Gravy” and chants “da-do-da-do.”
Remind your team that there is no right or wrong word.
This continues around the circle, with the person who said the second word starting a new word, which is free associated by the third person. Then, as before, the team chants the two words in unison and “da-do-da-do.” Continue going around the circle at least three times. The exercise should last around five minutes.
• Remind your team there is no right or wrong word – participants say the first thing that comes to mind, even if it’s super weird. This celebrates the individuality of each person and demonstrates how the group can create things together no one person would’ve thought of alone. This activity encourages your team to think on their toes and build a relationship with one another.
• Establish a rhythm with slow snaps or hand claps. This encourages the team to say the first thing that comes to mind on the beat, rather than pre-planning something funny or smart.
• Embrace absurd or silly phrases. The exercise is meant to get the team to create something together, and the chanting shows that the group accepts and celebrates the idea, no matter what.
3. Conducted Story
In this exercise, your team will cooperate in order to narrate a made-up story together. It will likely end up silly, but that should be encouraged. You’re allowed to have some fun!
Four to six members of the team stand in a line next to each other, facing the “audience.” The team will be telling a story, but only one person will speak at a time. A conductor, standing or squatting where everyone can see him or her, will point to whomever should be speaking to progress the story.
First, the conductor gets a suggestion from the rest for the team for the title of the story. The title can be anything, but it’s usually helpful if it includes the main character’s name so the participants can easily follow his or her story (i.e. “John’s Unfortunate Day” or “Carla and the Catepillar”).
Once you have the suggestion, the conductor points to the first person in line who begins the story. “John woke up, ready to take on the day. He had a full night’s sleep and couldn’t wait for breakfast.” After about 10-15 seconds of speaking, the conductor points to the second participant, who picks up the story from the same point: “However, he was completely out of eggs and.-“ The conductor points to the third participant: “… milk, plus he never bought a skillet or whisk when he moved into his apartment. That crazy John.” Once the conductor has pointed at every participant in the line, he or she is free to point to anyone in any order. The team needs to actively listen to the story, and be prepared to pick up right where it left off. The exercise ends when the story reaches a natural conclusion, usually within 3-5 minutes.
Repeat this exercise with different groups until everyone on your team has had an opportunity. Praise moments that show team members actively listening to what immediately came before. The “audience” will probably laugh when something unexpected is discovered by people working together.
• Try to tell a simple, linear story as a group. Even if it gets kooky, it’s still important to try to follow and have the story make sense in some way, shape, or form.
• The conductor shouldn’t try to trick or fool the participants into messing up. Once the team shows they grasp the basic game, he or she can make it more challenging by switching the order around or shortening the length of time each person speaks.
• The goal of Conducted Story is for each participant to listen to their co-workers and pay attention to the story being told. By actively listening and not pre-planning the next point in the story, they’re able to come up with something unique. It’s through creating the story together that people are able to discover stories that one person alone wouldn’t have told and to build something together as a team.
The Bottom Line
By the end of the above exercises, your team will feel a bit goofier and more connected. A great way to end a series of improv activities is to have a discussion about the workshop.
Here are some leading questions for your discussion:
• So…what did you think?
• What was your favorite exercise? Why?
• What skills did the exercises strengthen?
• What was the hardest exercise for you? Why
Overall, you want your team to know you value their opinions. If they had fun, you can bring these activities into other meetings in the future.
Let us know in the comments what you think of improv in the workplace. Have you done improv games with your team before? What barriers are there to making it happen? How did the exercises go? What did your team take away? We can’t wait to hear from you!
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Alyssa loves food. A LOT. Particularly pizza and popcorn, but she knows beggars can’t be choosers. When she’s not stuffing her face (which is rare), she loves watching movies, playing volleyball and softball, and engaging in any number of interesting shenanigans. If she had to pick a spirit animal, she’d be an otter because they are playful and love to laugh. Most of the time she’s laughing at herself, whether other people are laughing with or at her is to be determined.
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