Business Skills With an Improv Twist: The Ultimate Combo


Trust is at the root of business success.

When your team’s trust is low, people get stressed, which affects their health, mental capabilities and emotional stability.

In effect, a lack of trust prevents you from working together effectively.

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Have you ever wondered if it was safe to share an idea?

Are you more concerned about watching your back than supporting a colleague?

Do you wonder if your colleagues value your contributions?

If your work environment is built on trust, there is an incredible strength in each individual, team and organization to do great work.

Tweet: If your work environment is built on trust, individuals, teams and entire organizations want to do great work.

You and your team will overperform when you can trust and collaborate. Leaders can motivate and followers can perform when trust is at the center.

So how can you build trust? Through improvisation.

An unexpected solution

You probably already improvise, but just don’t know it.

You’ve likely found yourself in a situation like one of these, improvising your way to a solution:

  • Your boss calls you into her office and asks you to work on a project you’ve never heard about. It sounds scary but you say, “Yes”!
  • You’re presenting to a big client and she asks you a question that you’ve never considered. You answer and a colleague jumps in to support you, building on your answer.
  • A critical member of your team is out sick. You’re covering his work, your own, and pitching in on a surprise proposal  –  all at the same time.

These are all scenarios where improvisation is at work.

Improvisers engage in radical collaboration, using a level of trust and intensity of work that goes above-and-beyond the average teamwork. But it is precisely these behaviors that are key to building, managing, showing and engendering trust. And when improvisers walk out onstage without a script or plan each night, they really need to trust each other!

Improv at work

ImprovEdge was called in to help two huge banking entities that were merging to create a new brand and message. The leadership understood that the “new” organization’s employees had to understand and embrace the new identity to avoid problems.

We came up with a workshop to present to hundreds of employees, ranging from the CEO to administrative assistants. However, after the first presentation, our efforts were brought to a halt.

The problem wasn’t about branding at all.

Essentially, there was no trust between the groups.

After speaking extensively with the leadership, we revamped the workshop based on our observations:

  • The wealth management branch worried their new colleagues wouldn’t understand how to manage high-net-worth clients and would weaken their brand.
  • The retail branch was offended by the way their new colleagues were treating them, since the retail business was bringing more reach and product diversification to the new organization.
  • Additionally, these branches were from opposite parts of the country, which had differing rules of communication. Wealth management was located in New York City, and the retail branch in the Midwest.

The mistrust and different communication styles led to poor communication, no collaboration, misunderstanding, low trust, more guarded communication, and more low trust. The cycle would just continue without a way to improve collaboration and trust  –  and the organization would waste resources and lose time, money and innovation.

So we improvised with them! We engaged in improv exercises and brainstorming sessions with employees to figure out behaviors needed to move toward an effective, merged company. The revised workshops focused on positive communication, building on your team’s ideas, and supporting diverse strengths  –  all foundational principles of improvisation. Those behaviors allowed the wealth management and retail branches to recognize and leverage the different capabilities of their new colleagues. They were able to introduce new products to all of their clients across the new enterprise, and collaborate on growing the business.

With the right foundation for the new organization, people trusted and collaborated, leading to their best work and committing to success. Because of improvisation as a business skill, this organization  –  and yours  –  can build flexibility, collaboration, positivity and trust.

Can you recall a scenario where improvisation helped you build trust and collaboration in the workplace?

Takeaway: Use improv as a way to cure your business of small and big issues that are prohibiting collaboration and stalling growth.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.