What Comedy Teaches Us About Leadership
These are two things that sound like they don’t go together; after all, we’re told to set a good example, don’t be sarcastic, set and maintain standards, etc. What I’m talking about here is “improvisational comedy”, specifically one particular aspect called “Yes, and…”
Hopefully you’re still reading and haven’t decided that I’ve gone off the deep end.
“Yes, and…” is a rule in improv that encourages each individual participant to accept what the other players have set up in the scene and also sets the expectation each member will add their own contribution to further advance the story. This usually results in an extremely pleasant (and hilarious) experience for the players and the audience.
Compare this to many meetings and working groups that we all have attended in the workplace that are often not pleasant or hilarious. There are often individuals or factions pushing to have their preferred solution accepted without regard to other stakeholders’ or customers’ interests. Put a few of these individuals or factions in a room together to come up with a way forward on a problem and it can get downright hostile sometimes. It takes a strong leader to keep people in line and focused on collaboration instead of confrontation.
Implementing a “Yes, and…” rule at your next team working session can foster a more collaborative attitude. No one can start a new idea, they can only add to what has been previously proposed. Don’t allow your team members to outright dismiss another’s idea, but instead focus them on adding to it to make it better from their perspective. Throw nothing away, keep building on what is there and making it better.
There are two advantages to this:
1) It forces your team members to listen critically to what others are saying and focus on improvement, not simply advocating their own ideas.
2) It lets your team members feel like they’re being heard as they add their own contributions.
This isn’t easy to maintain. You may find your team slipping back into competing with each other and settling back into confrontational attitudes. Stay strong! Keep reminding your team that the goal at this meeting is collaboration and keep emphasizing the “Yes, and…” mentality to get the best ideas to the surface. It doesn’t have to go exactly like an improv scene. As the leader you can decide to toss something counterproductive out if you feel it is holding the team back from reaching a solution. Keep your team building on each others’ ideas, strengthening them and combining the best ones to get to a solution that achieves your goal!
Your results probably won’t be as hilarious as those at a comedy club, but hopefully everyone will leave feeling a little more positive than after a meeting that has been confrontational.
You need to choose your first attempt at this a little carefully. It probably works best at the beginning of a new project or in a phase where you are trying to define the structure of something you haven’t attempted before. Try getting your team to use the “Yes,and…” rule next time you are brainstorming solutions to a problem or trying to refine the possible courses of action you will take to achieve your next goal. Tell us about your experience in the comments!