Improv

Shadow Play
I've been involved with an international group called the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN)  for over seven years. AIN is a group of people who use the tools and skills of improvisation and bring them into businesses to improve team performance, creativity, and communication.

Improvisers spend many hours learning and practicing how to be in the moment, how to listen, and how to support their partners. They also have a clearly defined goal, are mutually interdependent, and hold each other accountable.  

Whereas most people who do public speaking as trainers or presenters work from prepared notes, improvisers get on stage and perform together without a script.  If you believe the adage that people are more afraid of public speaking then they are of dying, then being a stage improviser is one of the scariest jobs on the planet. ;)

Having no plans or notes doesn't equal being unprepared. What improvisers do have is expertise. They spend many hours learning and practicing how to be in the moment, how to listen, and how to support their partners. They also have a clearly defined goal, are mutually interdependent, and hold each other accountable—so they fit the criteria as a workplace team. (Most improv troupes hold each other accountable by debriefing after their shows to discuss what happened and how to improve—which is more then you can say about most workplace teams.)

There are guidelines for the behaviors expected on stage. These same guidelines, if followed, would produce an excellent work environment. Here are the guidelines, with some small tweaks to apply specifically to workplace teams:
  1. Yes, and  --  Accept and build on what you hear, while withholding or suspending judgment. Be conscious to not block or stop ideas or suggestions. Spend time actively listening instead of developing a response.
  2. Everything is an offer  --  Each contribution of a team member deserves respect and is an offer. It is my obligation to notice, accept, and use offers. I do not need to agree with the entire offer and will look for the parts that are useful without discounting the whole.
  3. Embrace failure --  Mistakes are gifts and an opportunity for learning. Focus on error recovery—not error avoidance. Make it safe for people to take risks.
  4. Make my partner look good  --   Everyone on the team is working towards the same goal. We support each other in meeting that goal in every way we can. When our partners look good, we look good—because we succeed or fail as a team.
  5. Let yourself be changed --  By what you hear, by what you experience, and by the offers around you. Practice flexibility. Relinquish enough control so you can be influenced by other points of view for the purpose of achieving your goal in ways you couldn't have come up with by yourself.

Wouldn't you like to be part of a library team that embraces these principles?!