I really can’t stand team-building exercises. I always feel like it’s forced fun. And I’ve been through so many team activities from pasta making to ax throwing to go-kart racing; I feel like I have done it all. Are our teams any closer because of them? I have no idea. So when I heard we were going to do a virtual team meeting with another team-building exercise, I was thinking, “Here we go again.” And when I was told I was going to lead it, my appropriate response should have been, “Come again?” Instead, it was “Absolutely – I love team activities. Of course, I’ll do it.” Yeah – I’m a hypocrite. And so are you, so get over it.
Two weeks ago, I ran our team activity. 90 minutes of improv and it was pretty spectacular. Do I think the team is closer because of it? I have no idea, but I do believe we all had a good laugh and with any hope, learned something in the process. Below is the activity I ran and of course, I had a PowerPoint to go with it. Because Powerpoint = Fun.
In preparation for the exercise, I had everyone do the following:
- Watch any improv (I suggested Middleditch & Schwartz on Netflix)
- Watch this video about improv from Big Think
- Create one slide that is the ‘un-me’ of you and send it before Day 1 to the moderator. The slide should contain pictures, words, and anything that helps to describe the opposite of you – the ‘un-me.’ The last point here, you have to give your un-me a name.
Powerpoint Presentation – with Speaker notes added
Slide 1: Styles of Humor
4 Styles of Humor (According to Psychology Today) – in order of appropriateness at work
- Affiliative – This involves telling jokes about things that everyone might find funny. The goal is to use humor to bring people together to find humor in everyday life.
- Self-Enhancing – This is being able to laugh at yourself, such as making a joke when something bad has happened to you. Trying to find the humor in everyday situations, and making yourself the target of the humor in a good-natured way.
- Aggressive – This involves put-downs or insults targeted toward individuals. When it is intended to threaten or psychologically harm others, it is the type of humor used by bullies.
- Self-Defeating – Putting yourself down in an aggressive or “poor me” fashion is called self-defeating humor.
The intent of the Slide: Talk about Humor as it pertains to work. Understanding types of humor will help prevent the wrong use of humor in the Improv exercise to follow.
Slide 2: Benefits of Humor at Work (Partial List)
- Increases employee engagement
- Decreases employee turnover
- Increases employee job satisfaction
- Increases employee productivity
- Prevents employee burnout
- Reduces absenteeism
- Increases company loyalty
- Improves morale
- Creates a more positive work culture
- Increases profit
The intent of the Slide: To discuss the value of humor. This slide should be used as a way to understand the baseline within the group. Ask questions like: Do you agree? Would you add or change anything? Note: Here’s the resource list for those folks that don’t buy it.
Slide 3: Dangers of Humor in the Workplace
- Distraction – Humor can be inappropriate if it distracts from the intended goal. Stress is real, and sometimes distractions are necessary – however, humor should be used in moderation, like everything.
- Division – Humor can be used to unite folks. However, those that embrace humor and those that don’t could be a source of clear division. Be careful.
- Disparagement – Humor can be downright mean. I think of people that say incredibly mean things on Slack and then add a “LOL” to the end. That does not make it ok. Nor is it ok to say something mean and follow it with a “Just Kidding.” Humor should not be aimed at anyone – we aren’t in the sandbox throwing Tonka trucks.
The intent of the Slide: To discuss that humor can go too far and that there are limits and risks. Here’s a full article on the above items.
Slide 4: What is Improv?
- Short Form vs. Long Form – There are two main types of Improv. Short Form is a small story and can be 2-5 minutes. Think of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Long-form is usually 15 – 90 minutes and is usually one story layered on top of itself. “Middleditch & Schwartz” is a great example of this.
- ‘Yes And’ – This is a key principle of improv. Translated another way, you can’t reject the information you are given. You have to take what you are given and build, grow, react to it – whatever. But you can’t reject it. This principle is critical as it will force you to focus on listening – which we all could work on.
- Gifting – This is another principle of Improv. This is the idea that you are in a partnership with your Improv team, and your goal is to set them up for success.
- It Doesn’t Need to be Funny – This isn’t really a rule, but I think some people don’t think they are funny, so they don’t try improv. By the way, those folks are usually the best at Improv.
- Keep it Simple – This is the idea that you want to be wary of introducing too much into your Improv. Keep it simple.
- Beware of Turns – Sometimes, someone introduces a complete shift in direction. These can be absolutely hilarious, but everyone needs to pay attention. This is another reminder of the necessity of active listening in improv.
- Give each other a name – This is a rule in my improv class. Having a name gives people something to build from. Not a hard-and-fast rule here, but it’s a good one.
Here’s the section where we did the improv over Zoom. Included is a list of what we did and what seemed to work. I would always ask for volunteers whenever possible.
- Improv Warm-ups – I asked everyone to turn off their microphones and cameras and just stretch. One minute of stretching – if we had more time, I would have had more stretching. However, we had one rule – no checking email, no slack – only stretching.
- One Word Sentence – We started with “One Word Sentence,” which has every person in the improv group introduce a word to form a sentence. The sentences continue until there is an end to the story. The beginning starts with “Once upon a time..” and ends with “The moral of the story is…” I asked for four volunteers for this exercise, assigned the order, and joined in as the 5th person. It went in order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and then back to 1 until the story was complete.
- Debate with One Word Sentence – This is the same sentence format but in a debate format. One team of 3 is the ‘Pro’ team, and one team of 3 is the ‘Con’ team. I asked for volunteers, set the order for each team, and then solicited topics for debate. The group selected “The Royals should have greater authority,” and we began. I was the moderator and asked each team to introduce themselves, and then we were off on the debate. It was pretty fantastic.
- Un-Me – To break up the day, we went to people’s Un-Me slides and had everyone guess the person. It worked well as it’s fascinating to see how people see themselves, and doing an “Un-Me” disarmed folks and loosened everyone up.
After running this session, I asked for feedback from the group. The element that stood out was the “gifting” side of Improv. There is a lot to learn from Improv, but that bit offered a key takeaway for everyone.
Resources and References
Fell on Black Days by Soundgarden (I miss Kevin and Bean)
Hash Pipe by Weezer (The kings of Nerd Rock!)