4 things you learn about change management with improv-theater

change improv

By Arbresh Useini, 15. April 2019

4 things you learn about change management with improv-theater

Every Monday evening, my colleague and I do improv-theater. The purpose is to improve our ability to be creative, think and answer quicky, and finally to feel comfortable during changes where unpredictable things can happen. In a constantly changing world – a VUCA world – it is required of organizations to constant evolve and change innovation, creativity, adaptability and activity.

How is improv-theater linked with organizational change?

We have always been afraid of change. Some more than others, but changes are difficult for us to deal with. It can become complicated even with small changes. Changes can be scary – especially if the change isn’t made by you. So, how is improv-theater linked to organizational change?

Innovation leads to change, and change requires you to be an improviser. Basically, you do improvisation all the time: in traffic, in conversations, and when change happens. But what did improv teach me about change management?

1. Get in character – and make it alive

The most important thing on stage is to let the audience feel the character. Is the character angry, happy, shy, confused? And then make it alive. It should be the same with organizational changes. A character is an on-going role and the same applies to your organizational changes. It’s not enough to say: “We have this change we should make. When that’s done, then we’re finished”. Change takes place on many levels and ways in the organization and must be an on-going thing.

2. Create circumstances and transform if required

Improv is two or more people on a stage without a script. Maybe you’ll get a place, a feeling or a line to work with from the audience, and then  nothing else. Your role is defined by the circumstances you create during the improvisation. Your role depends on one of two things: either it creates the circumstances, or you’ll have to react to those your co-actor creates – even if it requires you to transform along the way.

Every time I think I have predicted an act, my co-actor adds something else. You have to embrace the change along the way and transform if required – just like in an organizational change. The best companies can re-organize themselves.

3. “Yes, and” principle

“Yes, and” was our first lesson, but it has come to be one of my favorites! “Yes, and” basically means that you embrace your co-actor’s line. It doesn’t mean that you must say yes to everything, but it means that you should be open to the idea your co-actor comes with. At improv, we embrace the principle no matter what the actor in dialogue with you says. Imagine doing this at the next strategy meeting!

4. Mess it up means fun it up

Sometimes you make mistakes. It happens, we are humans. On stage, there is no time to redo the act or start explaining that the scene shouldn’t be like that. Consider being at the theater and the actors suddenly turn around and say, “Sorry, it wasn’t how it should be”. It would kill any act.

We make mistakes, and they are almost inevitable when doing improvisation. My experience is that the mistakes often make the scene more fun because we build on from there. Do the same in your organization. Use your mistakes to work on the next step. The worst thing that has happened is that you’ve had a learning moment.

Integrate the elements

So, this was the four things I learned about change management from improv. It doesn’t require you to do improv to capture the idea, but it requires you to adopt these elements in your organization.

Want to get inspired? Dive into our Tool: driving the change that innovation brings or read the article on how to pull change instead of pushing.

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