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3 Fun Improv Activities to Shake Up Your Team Building

There’s no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in improv. Improvisational theatre has been around since the ancient Greeks and is currently experiencing a surge in popularity across the globe as a hobby and profession. But improv isn’t just for comedians. Improv activities are a powerful tool for team building in any group, whether on a stage, in a conference room, or on the moon (not recommended).

Below are three beginner improv games to help your team build great teamwork.

What You’ll Need:

• a large, open space

• 4-10 willing participants (if your team is bigger, break into smaller groups)

• 1 facilitator who has read this article at least once

1. Count to 20

In this warmup, your team will count to 20 together to practice listening and teamwork.

Part of working together as a team is dealing with setbacks.

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 1. Once in position, anyone at all starts the warm-up by saying “one.” Then, another person continues with “two.” The warm up is complete when the group reaches 20 together.

Tips

• Encourage everyone in the group to participate, even if they’re nervous or shy. One person shouldn’t rattle off ten numbers in a row. Instead, everyone is responsible for doing his or her part, however small, to help the team reach its goal.

• Inevitably, 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. Part of working together as a team is dealing with setbacks in a way that builds momentum rather than disappointment.

• 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 the group toward the goal.

2. Da Do Da Do

This is a free association exercise designed to loosen your team up and help cultivate an ensemble mentality.

Assemble your group in a circle. To begin, one person says any word at all – girl, Tuesday, broccoli, awesome, zebra – anything. The person to their left then says the first word they associate with that word – girl…friend, Tuesday…meeting, broccoli…delicious, awesome…ness, zebra…okay. Then, the group as a whole repeats the two words together “Tuesday meeting” and chants “do-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.

Tips

• Remind your team that there is no right or wrong word – participants say the first thing that they think of. This celebrates the unique point of view each person has and demonstrates how together the group can create things no one person would’ve thought of alone. This activity encourages students to think on their toes while simultaneously strengthening their teamwork skills.

• Establish a rhythm, if possible, with slow snaps. 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 warm the team up to create together, and the chanting shows that group accepts and celebrates whatever the idea.

3. Conducted Story

In this exercise, your team will cooperate in order to narrate a made-up story together.

Four to six members of the team stand in a line, next to each other, facing the “audience,” if any. 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 of 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. “Amad’s Big Break” or “Mary and the Helicopter”)

People are able to discover stories that one person alone wouldn’t have told.

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: “He went downstairs and began preparing his breakfast: scrambled eggs, cereal, and-“ The conductor points to the third participant: “waffles. John wasn’t concerned with eating healthy, just eating a lot.” 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.

Tips

• Try to tell a simple, linear story as a group. Zany items will naturally appear in the story, so it’s important to try to follow this person on an adventure that makes sense in the world that the team is creating.

• Initially, 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 fellow participants and pay attention to the story being told. By actively listening and not pre-planning what they think will make a good story, they are able to follow what came immediately before. 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 Debrief

By the end of the above exercises, your team will feel a bit goofier and more connected, and will have a lot to think and talk about. 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?

Making It Happen

You might be thinking, “That’s all great and good, Zach, but how am I going to get my team to do something like this?” I’m glad you asked. Here are some tips on making it happen and overcoming any hesitation your team might have on these theater games:

• Share this article with participants ahead of time, so everyone can understand the value. One initial barrier will be convincing people about the value of these exercises, and that you’re not just goofing around.

• Schedule 45 minutes with your team to go through the above exercises. Choose a time that makes sense with schedules, not immediately before a big deadline, and not at 8 a.m.

• Select a facilitator comfortable with leading the exercises, preferably not a manager or boss. You can also rotate the facilitator responsibility among different team members, or consider hiring a facilitator from a local or touring improv comedy theatre to lead the team.

• Find a good, open space, where people can feel free to be goofy. Move desks and chairs to a corner of the room to create a space for the workshop.

• Bring employee gifts to hand out at the end of the exercise. People are more likely to let loose if they’re receiving some cool team building promo items.

• Have fun! If your team has never done something like this before, it might feel awkward or strange at first. Embrace and live in the awkwardness; it’ll vanish naturally as the team lets down its barriers and begins to forge strong bonds.

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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Comments

  1. alan

    It sounds like a fun time that could be used as a break to re-energize people!

  2. Bret

    Welcome to the QLP Blog Zach!

    I like the idea of the conducted story; the other two seem like a lot of work – only because I’m a HORRIBLE listener.

    How do you keep the story from getting out of hand or inappropriate though? In other words – how do you prevent this team building exercise from becoming an HR issue?

  3. greg

    Pretty cool ideas. I can see how these exercises can get your mind warmed up and loose.

  4. Rondell Caraos

    This Blog reminds me of when I first graduated college. My first job was with a firm that was basically door to door sales in a suit! I drove over an hour just to get to work and almost 2 hours on my way home! On top of it, I would drive my own car to get to my sales area. (no reimbursement for gas) Anyway, every morning we would do very similar exercises to get us motivated throughout the day. these exercises were very weird at first but they really did pump us up! I would feel more outgoing even though I have no problem being outgoing! The only issue I have with these exercises was that this company would do these before we hit the road and also when we got back to the office. They also required us to go out once a week with our co-workers to have a drink. That being said… I was NEVER home! It was seriously like a 12-15 hour day! Being single at the time, it wasn’t too crazy but being a married man with a toddler and one more on the way… there would be NO Extra time for exercises like this. This Blog was recommending about 45 minutes to do these exercises but even with that… time is money! Once I sit down at my desk… it’s go time! Great Blog though… thank you!

  5. Kelly Bird

    I LOVE the idea of improv as a team building exercise. Working as a team can be daunting enough if you don’t know your co-workers well and improv seems like the perfect way to get to know each other better and accomplish a fun task in a light hearted way. The count to 20 exercise sounds interesting but what is to keep the group in a circle from just counting in a circle? One person starts and even with your eyes closed its easy enough to tell when it’s your turn after the person immediately next to you states their number. I think it might be more of a challenge and definitely more entertaining (or frustrating) to have the group stand in a staggered arrangement instead of a circle so that with eyes closed it would be difficult to organize a counting order.

    Da-do-da-do sounds like a fun camp song game that would definitely be challenging and entertaining.
    I’ve seen Conducted Story performed in actual improv skits with very entertaining results. This also reminds me of a game we have at home that my 6 year old loves to play where each participant is handed picture cards with no words (or necessarily even relevance to another person’s card) and each player takes turns constructing a story relevant to the images on the cards. This not only gets the creative juices flowing to tell a story about your card but you also have to sharpen your listening skills to make sure your contribution effectively ties into the current story.

  6. Ashley

    What an interesting and fun idea! I never would have thought about improv as a team building activity but I can definitely see how this could help bring a unit together to work more cohesively. Getting to know you co-workers on a different level outside of the main work done day to day I think is very important to achieving a higher end goal. Everyone has their own unique characteristics and strengths that they bring to the work place, but not everyone may know about them or get the chance to appreciate them. The ability to act a little goofy helps blow off steam and can also connect the most shy with the most outgoing without singling out one specific person. While we have not tried any of these improv skits as of yet (and I am looking forward to trying them), a small group of us have a “work out” or exercise session each day at 3:45 in the afternoon. What started off as the three of us in a small office has now over the past two months culminated into gaggle of employees all doing the same scheduled work out together. Not only is it good for us physically (seeing as how we all sit far too much at our desks) but it has really turned into a team effort. We have people of all different fitness levels and all work together to encourage and cheer each other on. We all have fun and fight through the pain and get a few good laughs in along the way. It seems like every few days we have a new person from around the office joining the group and we couldn’t be happier! The bigger the team the more we get to know each other and feel more comfortable in turn with our day to day business interactions. Go Team!!

  7. Jaimie

    This is such a cool post. Improv as a team building exercise is such a good idea. Not only does this help with team building, but I feel like these would be cool ideas when some of us need to get up from our desks to take a break from looking at a computer screen. Sometimes we need a little break and these seem like some fun and easy ways to do that. The counting to 20 task seems so interested. It sounds so easy but I am sure it would come to be a challenge for many people.

    Cool post. 🙂

  8. Daniel

    Thanks for sharing. There are some excellent ideas here. Team building can improve moral in a workforce so much. Thanks once again for these lovely article…

  9. Dave

    I’m putting together an updated improv for business curriculum for a client I’m running a workshop for. These are excellent exercises. Thanks for sharing them, Zach.

  10. Bobby Saint

    I am grateful to you for sharing some fun improv exercises to make the most out of your team building. You mentioned counting one to twenty as one of the exercises that a team can perform. It will definitely promote participation and can actually build camaraderie within the group. Plus, I feel that is is one good way to actually “break the ice” if it’s their first time joining an improv class. If I were to conduct my own, I would definitely consider doing this activity with my class. Thanks for sharing this.

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