I was recently invited to work with a group in the entertainment industry. I was thrilled, as this department of 8-10 people had been together several years.
Plus they were very creative people. I figured I could try a variety of training exercises and games to help them reach their team goals for the new quarter, and experiment more than usual. I wanted to try some unique material to raise their brainstorming to a new level.
I chose to begin the workshop with a simple storytelling exercise, where the participants take on characters and share information back and forth. The idea is to get on the same page, and let go of their agenda.
Participant 1: I’m Joe DeLuca
Participant 2: I’m Monica DeLuca
1: We’ve been married 12 years.
2: Yes, we were married on Staten Island.
1: It was a beautiful wedding. It was outdoors.
2: Yes, over the water. He was wearing a blue tuxedo.
1: Blue is her favorite color. It matches her eyes.
Get the picture? You take whatever information your partner gives you, and add to it. I thought this would be a quick intro exercise to build confidence before we got down to the nitty gritty. Boy was I wrong.
The first couple couldn’t seem to share the story. One would ramble on filling in all of the details, then the other would explain why it couldn’t possibly have happened that way. I reiterated the point of sharing small pieces of the story, and we tried again. There was not much difference. I began to wonder if I had given enough detailed information, and started my business debrief early – about how sharing details leads to stronger team collaboration.
Then we tried to the next couple. Same result. Twice. So I decided to try it in trios. This time one sat in the background quiet, arms folded, while her partners – two men, talked over each other with individual stories. I was stunned. Every time I explained the game and gave examples, they nodded their heads in understanding. Finally I inquired to one of the men: “Why did you feel the need to speak over your partner?”
The answer was “I don’t trust that he’s going to give me something I can work with.” When I asked why, he informed me that they have to fight to get heard in their pitch meetings. When I pushed further and asked how that affects them as a group, it came pouring out. By fighting to get heard, they usually didn’t even listen to anyone else’s pitches. Even though they were a team, the loudest idea won. And if their pitches made it past the brainstorming phase, they often had “dutiful” support by their team, but not creative or generous support. How awful. No wonder they couldn’t participate in a simple sharing exercise. They didn’t trust each other at all. Several years in the same room with that dynamic just exacerbated the situation.
It became so clear to me. Trust is absolutely vital a team situation, and that goes double for improv. The most joyous scenes are the scenes where you can toss a simple nugget to your partner, also referred to as gift, and think “I can’t wait to hear what they’ll add. I’m going to stay present and receive their gift, so I can give one back.”
Lack of trust is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our reasons why it’s difficult to trust in certain situations. The great thing about improv is that it helps you build trust. By practicing the art of mutual creating, and saying “YES!” to all the gifts you receive on stage, you learn to accept others. You learn flexibility. And perhaps most importantly, you learn you can create value from everything.
By the end of the day, after creating together, this particular group behaved like that had met each other for the first time. They realized they all had brilliant ideas, and finally understood why they had been so successful to this point. Now that they’re ambition is married to trust, I can’t wait to see what they do next.