This week Norman and I had the pleasure of leading a team-building session for the Washington State Dept of Services for the Blind. Using Applied Improvisation, we had an hour and fifteen minutes to help nearly 80 people from different offices integrate new staff, build trust, and strengthen their teams.
If we had 3 or 4 hours to cover these important organization topics, it would have been easy. But to get that many people to experience trust and enhance team relations in the time allocated required taking some risks and stretching ourselves. Not only was the time allocated short, we also had to contend with a room configuration with theater style tables that could not be moved and about one third of the participants were blind. Our activities had to work for the sighted as well as the sight- and hearing-impaired.
If truth be told, there was a moment about half way through our time, where I wondered if I had picked the right activities. We had just introduced Bobsled and had the room filled with groups of 4-5, and it was very crowded. The group coming straight for me me was being lead by a blind woman and her guide dog.
And then they all started moving around, finding their rhythms as they weaved in and out of tables and up and down the aisles. At one point, a team of 5 passed by me with two blind men leading them. They were laughing and joking while the other three in their team were shouting directions. I relaxed as I realized it was working
The debriefing revealed how powerful the exercise was in revealing many aspects of effective teams. They shared about trust, the benefits of playing together, taking care of each other and listening to everyone’s needs to make US look good. We even got feedback channeled from the guide dog, “This is the most confusing, chaotic guide assignment I’ve ever had.”
It worked! as did the rest of the activities.
We listened to what the client wanted to explore and trusted the power of Applied Improv. We challenged participants to experience playing together, giving each other the kind of support and encouragement that creates the synergy in teams. And they found the way to work together that is needed to make difficult things happen in tough times.
It’s what I love about Applied Improvisation. It has a way of bringing us to a place where great learning can happen. The playful attitude inherent in the exercises allows us to interact with others as human beings, without all the defenses and guards we take on as adults.
As “curious children”, we get to explore and discover, make mistakes and learn. We aren’t trying to look good. We are just showing up being our best selves. Our focus can be on making others look good and that naturally makes US look good.
Most of us have been taught that WORK is drudgery. That teamwork is hard. Think of how much our lives would change if we brought more of a sense of play to every task and trusted that people want to play with us. Trusted that we could relax and be ourselves without having to look perfect.
I want to acknowledge Patrick Short who taught us Bob Sled at the last Applied Improv Regional conference. (He credited William Hall for Bob Sled). If you haven’t played Bobsled, here is the short version of the rules:
Instructions: Get in groups of 4…. 2, 3, 4 put your hands on shoulders of 1. Start to move randomly. Practice moving in rhythm together. When they get used to that, add in these commands:
- CHANGE – 1st person goes to last place
- ROTATE – reverse directions
- SWITCH – 2 and 4 switch
- TRADE – 3rd person jumps to another bob sled
- OPT – 4th person calls
Norman and I offer workshops and retreats for organizations and individuals. In September, we are offering an explorative retreat near Taos, New Mexico. Do you want to transform your business and/or your life? For more information and to register, go to Vallecitos Mountain Ranch near Taos, NM.