What Agile and Improv (No Joke!) Can Teach Teams About Working Better Together
Sometimes, inspiration can come from unexpected places. And in the workplace, where the air is full of energy, the queue is filled with projects, and change is often happening at lightning speed, it’s helpful to take a step back to explore creative ideas that can break down the silos, promote better teamwork, and infuse smarter structure into our workdays.
That’s where Agile and improv comedy can come into play.
Clear communication, continuous collaboration, and an abundance of learning and growth opportunities are among the many benefits of Agile methodologies. While Agile may not be the right solution for every team, every team can take bits and pieces of Agile and apply it to their unique situations.
Improv comedy is another methodology that’s closely aligned with successful team dynamics in the workplace. While improv may seem spontaneous and unstructured, it’s in fact built upon a base of very important rules that are important to teamwork, collaboration, and, ultimately, successful results.
Below are several ideas from both Agile and improv methodologies to consider integrating into your daily routines to improve your team’s dynamics and elevate their work and their morale.
In an Agile environment like Scrum, it’s vital that Scrum masters build mutual trust with the other members of the team. Although a lot of autonomy exists within this type of team, team members rely on each other to accomplish their goals. Trust can’t happen without effective communication and collaboration, and vice versa. And a huge chunk of building trust comes from actively listening to others.
Make team members feel safe expressing their ideas in a judgment-free zone. Consider making a meeting rule that someone must be able to finish their thought before someone else speaks, and lead by example. When team members see that you’re serious about listening to their ideas, they’ll feel more comfortable discussing roadblocks on projects, offering suggestions to improve a key area of the team’s process, or contributing innovative and fresh ideas that will benefit the business.
The Rule of Agreement.
As comedian Tina Fey details in her book, Bossypants, the first rule of improvisation is always to agree, and always say yes. The Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.” In the workplace, this method reminds us to hear one another out and see the possibilities in what a colleague is saying or creating, rather than automatically pointing out all the flaws.
Starting with a mental “yes” helps team members learn to rely on each other and trust one another with their ideas, knowing they won’t immediately get shot down. This culture of trust and openness makes way for a culture of creativity and innovation within, and beyond, the office walls.
Empowering team members to make decisions.
In a healthy Agile environment, Agile team members feel empowered to make decisions and find solutions to challenges that arise. Give your team specific opportunities to tackle challenges and self-manage to the extent that works for them and the other people they work with. Create opportunities for team members to see their feedback in action in the projects they take on, the products they help develop, and the choices the company makes, and pave the way for them to have direct involvement in improving a product and effecting change.
The “Yes, and” approach.
“Yes, and” takes the idea of agreement a step further. It’s a method that transfers naturally to workplace situations, which is probably why so many companies now use it to foster better communication among employees. In the improv world, “Yes, and” works by the principle that anything goes; that whatever is said or done by a fellow teammate, you roll with it. Rather than disagreeing with, belittling, or ignoring an idea, you accept it and expand on it, seeing where the idea takes you as a team. More times than not, it will lead somewhere exciting and interesting.
The workplace version of “Yes, and” is that when a colleague says something, you agree by saying “Yes, and…”and then build upon what they said by adding value of your own. Again, no disagreeing with, belittling, or ignoring an idea. This method can help team members move the conversation forward and improve collaboration, particularly when they’re working through a tough conversation, challenging project, or epic brainstorm.
“Yes, and” shows the other person that you’re acknowledging and respecting their ideas, and it also helps you frame your question or statement in a more positive light. Starting out with a positive makes it less likely that your mind will want to switch to something negative. These two simple words can show appreciation for colleagues, foster an environment of mutual respect, create more productive conversations, and make others feel heard. And don’t we all just want to be heard?
Conduct daily or regular stand-up meetings.
The common Agile practice of regular stand-up meetings means just that: team members stand up the entire time during a short, scheduled meeting that occurs every day or week, and take turns talking about work that’s recently been completed and what’s being worked on that day. These meetings give team members a chance to ask or address any existing questions, and get up to speed on what others are working on and where they may be running into roadblocks or needing advice. Cutting out the unnecessary, and communicating only what’s essential, is a key reason for these types of meetings. They also enable managers to help team members be more productive and efficient by becoming aware of and removing roadblocks in their path.
View mistakes as opportunities.
As Fey also states in Bossypants, “there are no mistakes—only opportunities.” Mistakes can lead to opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. As a leader, it’s important that you adapt to unexpected changes or failures with grace, and that you help your team find opportunity in the things that don’t go according to plan. Going off course may actually lead to something better or more meaningful; and if it doesn’t, it’s still a great learning opportunity. Aim to create a work environment where failure is not only an accepted, but encouraged, way of learning.
Have a “roundtable retrospective” after a project wraps up.
How often does your team finish a project, only to already be moving on to the next one? While analyzing results is important, taking a closer look at the process you used to get there is valuable, too. As Seth Godin says, “You can game the process for a little while, but that approach will always catch up with you.” Get feedback and perspective from each member of the team to find out where they struggled, what went well, roadblocks that hindered progress, and lessons learned.
Reflecting and adapting for the next project will help the team avoid repeating the same mistakes. Change can be hard when it’s happening, but in the long run, it’ll make your team’s day-to-day much easier.
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