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  • Writer's pictureTerry Withers

Preparing For An Improv Team Building Workshop At Work

So you've decided to bring an improv team building workshop for professional development to your offices? Great decision! Congratulations!


When bringing an improv artist into your office to teach an improv team building workshop (or an improv workshop addressing the development of any soft skill) it is important to prepare your space, your team and yourself for the event. While hardly the most expensive investment a company is likely to make, there is no reason not to maximize a worksop’s learning impact. Below are some tips to help you do just that!


YOUR SPACE

An improv workshop works best in a private space that is large enough for all participants to stand in a circle with nothing between them. The space should of course be well lit and safe to move in (sharp corners, piles of wires or low hanging pipes are the enemies of improv team building workshops). One light, hard backed chair should be provided for every participant (and the instructor) and should ideally be arranged in a large circle.


The privacy of the space is important, as the participants will be asked to take risks in the workshop. The dynamic we want to avoid is some people being asked to take risks while others watch and seemingly judge them without needing to take a risk themselves.


If the event is taking place in a conference room with glass walls near a busy section of your business, then participants will feel less inclined to commit to the exercises. The same is true of rooms without closable doors (or poor sound proofing) and requests by managers or senior leaders to watch the workshop without participating.


Safety in the space is paramount. I’ve never led or been associated with an improv team building workshop that resulted in an injury, but then I make safety a primary concern when planning such events. Carpeted rooms without many heavy tables work best. 


You want an empty playing space that does not offer the opportunity for trips, slips or head bumps. Look for heavy wires or other tripping hazards on the floor and beware of rooms with low ceilings.


Finally, providing light refreshments in the room or just outside of it is always smart. It helps raise the spirits of the participants to have easy access to water and coffee. I’ve been organizing and leading workshops like these for over a decade and I’ve never noticed that delicious cookies with chocolate chips do anything other than help to make the event a success!



A space poorly arranged for an improv team building workshop with many tripping hazards
A space poorly arranged for an improv team building workshop with many tripping hazards

YOUR TEAM

Not surprisingly, the people taking the workshop are the most important aspect of the workshop. It therefore stands to reason that nothing you can do before the workshop is more important than preparing them!


Over the years I've noticed that many clients who book an improv team building workshop think it would be fun to surprise their team with it. That’s understandable given improv comedy’s strong association with prank shows that rely on a lot of ad libbing. Shows like Candid Camera or (my favorite tv show ever) Impractical Jokers are good examples of what I mean. 


But, as the clips from the previous paragraph should convince you, surprising your team with an improv team building workshop is a big mistake that can destroy trust and set the stage for the workshop to be less effective. Avoid this common error! Instead, make sure that you notify everyone in the workshop what it is they'll be doing with ample time for them to respond to your notification and to process the news.  


Improv can be scary to certain personality types and much scarier if you are dropped into it without warning. If the goal of your workshop is to build trust and positive feelings or to meaningfully hone critical business skills, a panic attack is not conducive to those goals. 


Instead of surprising your team with an improv team building workshop, set them up for success by providing them with at least a week’s notice before they join the workshop. 


When sharing the news of the event with them you will also want to prepare them for the day of the event. Advise participants to wear comfortable clothes that day that allow for easy movement. They’ll want to be wearing sneakers or loafers that day, not tight, shiny shoes they may be off balance in or hesitant to scuff.


You will also want to share why you are having the workshop, as understandably some of your team may be confused about why you are having a comedian come to the office for professional training. You can share this page from the RA website about the origin of improv and its connection to the development of soft skills. You may also want to share a promotional video if your vendor has one (like RA’s here) to give participants a sense of the activities they will be engaged in and the feel or tone of an improv team building workshop.


You might also want to share other companies that have worked with your vendor in the past, in order to reassure your team that the experience will be professional and bring true value to them. If you have engaged The Radical Agreement Project (RA) to lead your workshop then you can share this abbreviated list of past clients with your team:


Allegis / Amazon / Breakthru Beverages / Capco / CHKD / CHRA / Constellation / Endeavor / Hivebrite / Intel / Keko / Ner Tamid / Novelis / Ohr Chadash / The Matchstick Group / UMBC / WeWork


Most importantly, you should highlight to your team that improv team building workshops are designed, first and foremost, to be fun! Tell your team that yes, they should expect to explore some valuable new strategies and learn some new tools for their professional toolkit, but that they’ll do so while laughing and celebrating with their colleagues.


I’ll note, some individuals find improv or any form of public speaking to be intimidating. If someone on your team feels particularly challenged by the upcoming workshop, there is no reason to force them to participate. At RA we have strategies to include individuals in the workshop without ever shining a light on them or forcing them to participate while still imparting the learning lessons behind the event. Just be sure to notify me 


Under such circumstances the right thing to do is to inform your improv facilitator or company about the concern and to discuss an appropriate strategy.


By notifying your team of the nature of the workshop with ample time for feedback, you allow for such strategies to be implemented.


YOURSELF

In order to provide the most effective improv team building workshop (or improv based workshop focused on any learning goal) you should schedule some time with your facilitator to plan the event. It is natural to feel this work is already completed when you retain your vendor for the workshop, as proposals and other marketing materials often paint a picture of what to expect. Not only that, most clients share their thinking behind their interest in an improv team building workshop early in the sales process.


That’s fine and good for a start, but getting more specific is a good way to maximize you workshop’s potential value.  


Set aside 30-45 minutes of your time to meet with your instructor to discuss the particular challenges and dynamics of your team. Much like the famous Tolstoy quote that kicks off Anna Karenina, happy teams are all alike; unhappy teams are each unhappy in their own way. Now hopefully your team isn’t unhappy (who has ever even heard about someone being unhappy at work?) but you get the point.


Your team is unique and it will pay dividends for you to explore how and why with your improv facilitator. Armed with this information, your facilitator will be able to tailor the workshop exercises and talking points so as to best address your team. 


I advise this conversation happening about a week before the event so that the information is fresh and pertinent. Sure, by that point you will have already decided on a general focus for the workshop, whether it be team building, communication skills, agility in the face of the unexpected, working with difficult people, sales or the development of any other soft skill. The goal is to cover your team’s particulars in a much more granular fashion, discussing new developments, your ideal outcomes of the workshop and your team’s general attitude towards the upcoming event.  


The value of pre and post work should also be discussed with ample time to provide and tweak exercises and readings that apply to your workshop. Not every workshop or every group will benefit from pre and post work, but many of them can. Ask your vendor what they think and consider the benefits.


It is natural to feel increasingly nervous as your event improv team building workshop approaches. Members of your team may feel nervous themselves and seek to transfer their feelings to you. Remember that you have planned your event with professionals who have led many such events in the past and that your event (and reputation) are in safe hands.


Given that some of your team may be nervous, a good idea is to be ready to participate fully and early yourself. When your team sees that you are fully engaged it will be easier for them to do the same.


Finally, ask your vendor for suggested readings or videos for you to digest before the event. This may vary depending on your workshop’s intended focus, so I can’t list out recommended blogs, articles or books here. That said, your vendor will almost certainly have a wealth of suggested readings at their fingertips. In fact, if you ask for this and the vendor is taken off guard or unsure of what to recommend, you might take that as a warning sign that you are working with the wrong vendor.


Well, that about does it. If you follow this advice you should be well prepared when your event does arrive. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Oh! And if you have arranged for an improv workshop at your offices before and think I’ve missed a valuable piece of advice, either something you wish you had done or something you are very glad you did in fact do, please let me know! Email me at terry (at) radicalagreement (dot) com.


Check out RA’s professional development improv workshop page here: https://www.radicalagreement.com/corporateworkshops

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