How improv is helping us become better communicators, collaborators and teammates

Every year at MullenLowe salt Singapore we choose a theme to help us embody the spirit of ‘becoming better’ (our company mantra) and 2018 is our year of ‘swagger’! We are strategic communications and public relations specialists so confidence and good communication is fundamental to our work. When my colleague suggested improv as confidence-building team activity to help us become better at thinking and speaking on the spot – I’m not going to lie – it sounded a bit daunting; visions of myself standing alone (in my underwear?!), spotlight above, awkwardly miming jokes to the sounds of crickets flitted through my mind. Turns out I had improv all wrong. We arrived feeling kinda shy and a bit low-energy but within minutes they had us prancing around the room, laughing uncontrollably.

Not only was it such a fun day, we also learned three simple improv concepts that will help us become better communicators and more open and trusting teammates.

Build people up: approach everything with a ‘yes, and…’mindset 

Turns out the word ‘but’ is kind of a buzzkill. Next time you’re in a conversation try saying “yes, and…”; it’s a powerful tool to help build up colleagues’ or clients’ suggestions, rather than shutting them down. It also encourages us to become more open to new things. This also minimizes the fear of criticism and helps generate twice the amount of ideas.

Make your teammate look good: it’s not all about you!

Something magical happens when you stop worrying about yourself and instead focus on building up those around you: you’ll find greater opportunities for human connection, build better relationships and in the process, you’ll find you end up looking good, too. Lifting others up is a sign of confidence and the mark of every great leader. We’re pretty good at this at MullenLowe salt; we have a lovely and supportive culture, and always look out for each other. But it’s good to be reminded of the importance of knowing when to let others shine.

The Singapore salties are a diverse bunch and many of us are introverts but we weren’t surprised that everyone embraced it with gusto – a testament to our very inclusive culture and non-hierarchical structure where everyone mucks in and everyone supports each other.

Embrace failure: it’s ok to F*-up

This one may seem a bit cliché but sometimes for us ‘salties’ our mantra of ‘become better’ can also be a road block; we hold ourselves to such a high standard that it can be scary to slip up or admit we don’t know the answer in front of our brilliant colleagues. But experiencing failure is the best way to learn and watching everyone try (and fail!) to be a convincing tree, rabbit or tiger during the improv made us think about our attitude towards making mistakes, acknowledging them, learning from them and not sweating the small stuff.

We plan to use these improv theories to help our MullenLowe salt culture become even better as well as sharing some of the theories as part of our work with clients through our employee engagement work. We’ve also started brainstorming ideas (of course, using the ‘yes, and’ model!) on how we can use some of the exercises as ice-breakers in client workshops. In addition to being useful to our work, one of the most important things was that we all just had a great time letting loose and being silly together. We worked together to come up with creative ideas and learned to communicate and work better as a team. And now we have a hundred inside jokes that we’ll probably be miming to each other until Christmas.