Five Reasons to Give Improv a Shot in Your Organization

There are tons and tons of trust-building exercises and theories but none of them are as active (or as much fun) as improvisation. Here are five good reasons to give improv a shot as your organizational trust-building tool of choice:

Reason 1: We already improvise – every day.
If you think you can’t improvise, take a moment to consider any workday. We all head in with a schedule in our heads and outcomes for the day. I would bet that 90% of the time, that agenda changes on the fly. How do you manage? You improvise. The good part is that if you can master a few simple behaviors that improvisers use on stage, it can exponentially improve your ability to adapt, stay engaged and move on.

Reason 2: Positive behaviors = positive results is a known fact.
The underlying principle of improvisation is the concept of “Yes!” Improvisers believe that contributions should always be greeted with agreement – at least at first. Not all ideas are kept, but the act of positive reaction changes how people feel about their value, their part in a project and about you. A 2001 paper from the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations found that for every 1% improvement in the service climate (a company in a good mood), there’s a 2% increase in revenue.

Reason 3: Committing to the game creates accountability.
After an improviser says “Yes!” they immediately say “and.” That simple word, “and,” allows them to add an idea, a joke, and a flavor to the scene onstage. When they add their piece, it also means that they are committed to the scene. They are in it and will stick to it through failure or success. If we could all jump into our work with the attitude that will be positive and add our contribution, every time, everything would be done faster, better.

Reason 4: Improv removes the fear of making mistakes and managing the unexpected.
Improvisers make mistakes and encounter the unexpected all the time. More importantly, when faced with those occurrences, we acknowledge it (instead of shoving it under a rug), think about how it could be used for the good of the scene or comedy, and move on. Instead of running, fretting or obsessing about the unexpected, you can make mistakes into opportunities by working like an improviser.

Reason 5: Fun is a good thing.
The most successful executives and high-performance teams which whom I’ve worked always include fun in the list of why they’ve done so well. Being willing to laugh, work like it’s play, and act like a team is the best way to spend the many hours you are away from your home and family.

Convinced? Interested? Still scared? Tell us…


Five Ways Scenario Planning Could Have Averted Major Disasters

Author Tom Chermack is a seasoned academic with impeccable corporate credentials as well in the field of scenario planning.Scenario planning derives from the observation that, given the impossibility of knowing precisely how the future will play out, a good decision or strategy to adopt is one that plays out well across several possible futures. Tom lists below the five ways in which scenario planning exercises by Companies and organizations (such as BP) could have averted the oil spill and ensuing crisis.

1)Consider Internal Dynamics. This may come as blasphemy to many scenario planning professionals. Scenario exercises have almost always focused on external events and forces, because the purpose is commonly to explore and understand what is going on out there. Given that more and more companies have global reach, and many have revenues that exceed small nations, a failure to explore internal dynamics can be a major oversight. Toyota is a prime example of an internal oversight that led to an organizational crisis. A secondary benefit of using internal dynamics as major forces in scenario exercises is that it brings the scenarios immediately closer to the users. Using an internal factor as a major critical uncertainty can help managers see how their actions could make a difference, and creates a set of circumstances in which their judgment matters, and they can see how their decisions might play out.

2) Explore Unlikely Scenarios -- Do Not Assign Probabilities. Scenarios existed that contained the events of September 11, 2001. The scenarios were dismissed as “unlikely” because the odds of their occurrence were deemed slim. This is a great lesson in the purpose of scenarios. The purpose is to explore and understand unlikely events that could fundamentally impact an organization (and increasingly, our world). Assigning probabilities is a sure way to dismiss the unlikely scenario elements and defeat the purpose of any scenario planning effort.

3) Consider Responses.
Many scenario exercises fall short of considering responses in each scenario. One of Peter Schwartz’s key questions for each scenario is “What will we do IF…”, yet this basic question is often overlooked. These do not have to be detailed contingency plans, but general responses to environmental conditions are critical. BP Amoco might never have been able to anticipate the problems that caused a major leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but general approaches to handling a potential disaster should have been considered long before drilling for oil. The potential for equipment malfunction is almost a predetermined element -- why not anticipate it?

4) Realize Regional Differences. Scenario planning use is on the rise, which is a good sign. Scenarios are powerful tools that can help people clarify their perceptions. More and more scenario projects are being undertaken for global events. For example, the UNDP website posts scenarios for India, China, Global Warming, Global Economies, etc. While these are useful starting points, they become a backdrop for more detailed scenario work. This applies to almost any complex phenomena -- location, resources, environment, and landscape all matter. This is a good reminder of Pierre Wack’s thinking that you must begin with macro scenarios, and, like a camera lens, you zoom in on the details according to a more specific location or issue.

5) Celebrate and Communicate Success. Many companies are currently using scenarios with great success. A great example is the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, MN (I was born and raised in the Twin Cities). Disaster scenarios were documented and well integrated with emergency response teams in Minneapolis, which is why the response was so rapid and seamless. Yet, not much was publicly communicated about the success of the response effort. The swiftness could be attributed to good planning, anticipating unlikely events, and thinking through responses, all of which would make for a good case that many city planners could learn from.

I urge company and community leaders to share their successes -- as we will be doing with our work through the Scenario Planning Institute at Colorado State University. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and observations.


Five Common Convening Mistakes

Craig and Patricia Neal have been organizing gatherings and meetings for decades across the nation and have a pretty solid idea of what works and what doesn't. However, even seasoned conveners still make mistakes when bringing people together.

In this entry, Patricia and Craig list the Five Most Common Convening Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them):

1. Not "Staying Connected": Convening is about being open to relationship rather than closed. It is a challenge to choose to stay connected and open when our lives and schedules are full and our time is precious. Stay connected by knowing who you are and how you want to be in relationship with others. You always have a choice when you walk into a meeting: do you want to be connected, or stay closed? Choosing connection can lead to collaboration, creativity, purposeful outcomes.

2. Fearing Rejection: The fear of rejection can derail our ability to extend a wholehearted and sincere invitation. Invite often – for all kinds of things – and experience acceptance and rejection as others’ freedom to choose rather than a personal success or failure. We often think that colleagues are too busy to talk beyond the cursory business at hand, but when we persevere, people are grateful for the opportunity to catch up and reconnect. Our fear of rejection, rather than rejection itself, was holding us back.

3. Making Assumptions: We say “assume and doom.” When we assume others know what a gathering’s all about, we put our gathering squarely in the realm of the unknown. Make the purpose and desired activity for a gathering as clear and explicit as possible – even if it seems unnecessary. At one important meeting, knowing we had only an hour, we jumped right into the action items. We neglected to set the context, assuming we were all on the same page. At the end of the meeting, people had different understandings of the purpose of the meeting and were not aligned in a commitment to action.

4. Reluctance to Impose Our Will on Others: “You’re not the boss of me!” How often have we said or heard words like that? But providing structure, environment and terms of engagement is a crucial part of convening. People need structure. If there is no structure, people look to create it. At a recent family gathering, we felt we should not be too controlling, but this led to a lack of clarity in stating the terms of engagement or agreements for a discussion. Everyone jumped in, in their own way, with cross-chatter and began talking over one another. It would have been better to state our expectations ahead of time to enable all people to be heard.

5. Impatience and Judgment: The compelling desire to “Just get on with it!” can rush us obliviously past the most important pieces of wisdom and capability present in our gathering. Remember, anyone included is equally important and essential. At the beginning of most meetings we do a check-in to hear from everyone. This one time we were 15 minutes late. we suggested we skip the check-in and move right into the agenda. Halfway through the meeting we realized we didn’t have everyone’s attention and didn’t have the necessary alignment to make important decisions we were there to make.

There are actually four other scenarios that generate obstacles for effective convening but we chose the the five most common. What do you think? Did we choose the five most common? Do you have any feedback or ideas for us?