The town where I live has this wonderful New Year’s celebration every year. The way it works is about 20 churches, banks, libraries, retirement homes open their doors for one night to become equal opportunity public spaces for people to celebrate. One of those spaces was the local Methodist Church. It has these wonderful old wooden balconies and a big stage up front.
When my daughter was 12, I took her to a New Year’s comedy show in that church. We sat up in the balcony right by the stage, in front row seats. The group performing was the famous Chicago Second City. They are the birthplace of Saturday Night Live and hundreds of well-loved comedians and actors like Tina Fey, Gilda Radnor and Alan Alda.
I’d never seen them before so I had no idea what we were getting into. Thirty seconds into the show my daughter was laughing so hard, that I grabbed the back of her overalls to keep her from falling off the balcony. We laughed so hard that night, our ribs hurt and tears streamed down our faces.
Having grown up in Los Angeles, I had never seen live comedy, only studios where movies and TV shows were filmed. And I knew something different and unique had entered my world. I wanted more.
Ever since that night, I wanted to take improv classes myself. I finally got around to it, and my first class was so terrifying I broke out in a cold sweat and almost left. But that was six years ago and I’m immensely grateful I chose to stay. Because choosing to stay is at the core of comedy, and at the core of being human and being in relationship. There is something intensely valuable about being present – to the moment, to each other, to what’s trying to happen. There is a kind of joy in it.
After I got over my shyness and began to be more willing to take risks, I realized that what was happening in improv was much bigger than me. It was about community building. It was about making freedom possible in relationships. And as an agile coach, relationships are my business. We are spitting in the wind if we don’t learn how to talk with each other, both within the team and company, and with the customer. As I got more comfortable with improv I began to wonder what it had to offer to companies wanting to be awesome, to companies wanting to adopt agile sometimes without knowing why, to teams and organizations exploring innovation, taking risks, and “swinging out big.”
So a couple of years ago, having survived and loved several improv classes at both The Second City and the famed Piven theater workshop, I began bringing improv games to agile coaching as one of the services I offer.
The results have been explosive.
I’m at a loss for words at how transformative improv has been and continues to be for the teams and companies I coach. I regularly see people go from letting of “fear driving their bus,” and move towards innovation and levels of fun and collaboration they’ve never, ever experienced before, inside or outside the workplace.
Customers have started showing up absolutely delighted. Even people outside the improv rooms are showing up in the hallways and peeping around corners into the room, on fire with curiosity about what’s happening in there, and why that team is suddenly kicking ass, tripling its velocity, and becoming the cool team that everybody wants to hang out with. The gratefulness I feel to the improv community is beyond measure, because as an agile coach my whole job description is to help people unleash their potential and for companies to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
Thank you, improv! And much more to come!
Check out these great links:
Piven Theatre Workshop