The Undivided Life Blog


Improve with Improv

communication company culture leadership May 15, 2023
Divine Comedy Improv Troupe

How can no plan and no control make you a better leader?

The soft skills of leadership are hard to develop when you are focused on budgets, 5-year plans, and quarterly execution strategies.

Those elements are critical, but we must leave our leadership comfort zone as we recondition our muscle memory to listen better, be more present, and empower others through affirmations.

What is the panacea to this problem?


When was the last time you experienced live improv?

Do you remember watching the actors seamlessly interact as different characters from one scenario to the next and being in awe at how it all came together?

Successful improv actors follow rules that guide their ability to perform together, and they relentlessly practice and refine their ability to operate within these rules over time.

But the rules that make improv so enjoyable are no joke. These rules guide the participation and presence of every actor so that they can create a multiplicative outcome and moments of breakthrough that are authentic rather than orchestrated.

At @Undivided Life, we integrate Improv comedy training into our retreats and workshops to recondition and reset group dynamics.

Here are our three favorite rules of Improv that perfectly translate to business leadership.

Rule #1 – Yes, and….

Rather than focusing on the reasons and rationale as to why an idea is not going to work and shutting down an exploration of ideas, try saying “Yes, and…” to every statement made in your group. If you can get everyone to adopt this practice, even just for one meeting to see how it goes, you will likely experience the beginnings of an organizational oil change.

By starting your reaction to any comment or suggestion with the words “Yes, and…”, you are building up your teammates with an affirmation of understanding and a desire to build upon their ideas. In addition, your “yes, and” forces you to listen with the intent of hearing and reduces your immediate urge to dismiss or diminish the creativity of others. And guess what – some of the ideas you will hear along the way are impossible or crazy or bad, but all your “yes, and” moments will help to unlock the creative energies of everyone involved.

Rule #2 – Be Present

Improv does not always flow well, and one of the primary drivers of on-stage discord is a lack of complete presence by the actors. On the other hand, when every member of an improv troupe can operate together and stay “in the moment,” the resulting dialogue and story development are often magical. Your organization can have a similar experience when each team member listens to understand instead of waiting to speak and interject.

It is human nature to be “in our heads” as we wait to share our stories or ideas. This self-inflicted distraction is not much better than reading emails while your coworker is talking. When you come to any meeting, plan to take notes and stay focused on the actual words and ideas being expressed by your team. Before speaking, gut-check what you are about to say to determine if it is directly related to what you just heard or if you are jumping away from the incomplete thoughts of someone else and into your world again.

Saying “yes, and” helps to alleviate the temptation to focus on yourself. You can also ask simple probing questions to ask the speaker for more details or to dig into the “why” behind the “what.” In any case, be honest about your current level of presence and make immediate corrections when you notice the conversation in your head more than the one in front of you.

Rule #3 – Make Your Partner Look Good

It turns out that being disagreeable onstage and attempting to outshine a fellow actor or not stepping up to help a struggling character are recipes for failure.

Does that sound familiar?

Do you experience times in your meetings when a team member only cares about looking good, will not attempt to assist someone who is not performing at their best, or seems to be purposely in opposition to most of the meeting’s momentum without clear and understandable reasons? If you can follow the first two rules, this third rule should be a natural outcome. If I can constantly be present to what is being said, probing for more understanding, and then building on those ideas with a “yes, and” mentality, I am much less likely to minimize others or to seek credit for the team’s success.

Sounds Great – What’s Next?

First - Accept the challenge to grow in the soft skills of leadership.

Second – Get creative. How can you create shared experiences that build up this approach?

Third – If you need help crafting a great offsite, connect with us to get started.

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