Yes And Conversations
Ask the group to explore the workshop space by walking about in an amorphous blob. If it helps, tell them to imagine they are gas particles in a glass container, so that they walk without a discernible pattern.
Say stop and ask participants to partner with whoever is closest to them. If there is an uneven number you can allow one trio or you can partner with the additional person. If the workshop is occurring over Zoom, you can easily partner people randomly by creating breakout rooms.
Ask the partners to have a conversation in which they collaborate on a seasonally appropriate holiday party. If it is October it can be a Halloween party. If it is February, it can be a Valentine's Day party. And so forth.
The one caveat is that every sentence in this conversation (after the first sentence of course) must start with the word "NO". Let this go on for 2-3 minutes, then reconvene. Check-in with the group quickly and ask for highlights. After a minute or two, break back into pairs. People can either form new pairs using the same process from before or return to the original pairing, your choice.
Ask the pairs to once again plan the same party from before. This time every sentence (after the first) Must start with the words "YES BUT". After 2-3 minutes, reconvene and check in.
Return to the pairs for a final conversation. Ask them to once again plan the same party. have everyone go back to the cloud. This time every sentence after the first should start with the words "YES AND". After 2-3 minutes reconvene and lead a discussion.
Of the three conversations, which led to the most complete, if not feasible, plan? The "Yes And" conversation should be close to the unanimous answer. If that isn't the case, it means you are a terrible teacher (joke). You can also ask, of the three conversations, which was the most enjoyable to participate in? Here, many people may prefer "Yes But" and possibly the "No" conversations. Discuss why.
Yes And Conversations is a classic exercise for improv-based professional development workshops. It cleanly and simply demonstrates the collaborative power of saying yes to your partner and building on their ideas. This exercise is therefore very common in improv workshops of all variety, but is perhaps best used in workshops focused on:
Teamwork (team building, trust, support)
Number of Participants:
Minimum: 4 participants / Maximum: 20+ participants
Minimum: 15 minutes / Maximum: 20 minutes
You might try this same exercise with these slight adjustments:
Address a company-specific problem in the conversations. For example, instead of planning a Halloween party, ask participants to have a conversation about how to safeguard the company CRM against duplicate records.
Instead of breaking into pairs, ask for two volunteers to hold the conversations in front of everyone as a demonstration, which you can guide and note as it progresses.
For even more options, see the Improv@Work blog post, Yes And... And!
Instructor Talking Points
It is critical for teammates to feel supported. Saying yes to someone's idea is an extremely powerful force multiplier when creating or building a team. It is so strong that it is worth embracing even weaker ideas. On a team, you want all participants fully engaged, making suggestions and contributions. When you say yes to an idea you are saying yes to the person who had that idea. Saying yes to each other will result in your team feeling empowered and fully contributing. Therefore, saying yes to any particular suggestion has less to do with that specific idea and more to do with the next ten ideas the individual making the suggestion will have. You want them to share their ideas and to feel good about themselves as they do so.
Applied Mantra: Yes And...
Embracing ideas that strike you as outlandish, unreasonable or (frankly) bad can lead to surprising results. If they are ideas you would dismiss when you are alone, then they are ideas you have not fully explored. Ask yourself, how can you build on them? What would come next? While the results may be entirely unworkable, they will also be fresh and unique. In this fashion, a great number of options can be quickly created and filled out, allowing for evaluation at a later point.
Applied Mantra: Yes And...
A general rule of thumb you can count on is that when you think someone else has poor ideas, they almost certainly think the same thing about you. By saying yes to the suggestions of others, even when we dislike their ideas, we can flip this dynamic.
People tend to like the ideas of those who like their own. Once we introduce a culture of agreement, problems that seemed intractable can become much easier to resolve.