Drawing principles from other fields to boost collaboration and innovation in the office is not a novel practice. Areas ranging from yoga and aikido to chess and motorcycle maintenance have long been tapped for inspiration. But perhaps the most unexpected business boosts have been culled from the world of improv comedy.

Second City is the premiere comedy improv institution based in Chicago and has been the springboard for some of entertainment’s biggest names—alumni include Steve Carell, Tim Meadows, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Tina Fey and many more (e.g., Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry…who knew?). Second City’s B2B division, Second City Works, has translated its proven improv methods to help corporate organizations work more effectively. In the book Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration, Second City executives explore an exercise in which people accept ideas presented by their colleagues and add to them, no matter what. It encourages people to go beyond their comfort zone, while developing empathy for others’ perspectives and the confidence to share their own. At a recent workshop, I had the chance to try out the “Yes, And” method with fellow INSIDEr Kelly Levine—and although my (genius) idea to turn the office into a fun park with cotton candy dispensers and bouncy castle conference rooms may never materialize, it was an energizing brainstorming session for us both.

So why does it work? It turns out, the keys for success in business run parallel to those in comedy improv:

  • Recognizing where you are in the moment
  • Being flexible enough to choose new paths
  • Being willing to collaborate on solutions
  • Feeling free to take risks and learn from failure

Keeping an open mind, staying quick on your toes and “reading the room” are a few of the same skills that allow employees to adapt quickly to change and course-correct when things go wrong. Improv teaches people to listen to one another and make connections in unexpected directions—with an understanding that you have to pitch a few bad ideas to get to the great ones. And learning to say “Yes, And” is only the start. Through a grab-bag of improvisational activities, Second City workshops can help improve agility, foster camaraderie, skyrocket creativity and disrupt stagnant behavior patterns within your organization. Plus, it simply makes work a more fun and engaging place to be. The result? A wellspring of fresh ideas and possibilities to explore.

Second City Works offers corporate workshops, as well as a professional development program called RewireU. Do you think your company culture could benefit from the principles of comedy improv? Have you tried it out in your office? We want to hear more about your experience. Email us at conversations@jwt.com.

As a Copywriter for JWT INSIDE, Natalie White loves to make words jump off the page, in your face and into your soul. No matter the task at hand, she comes armed with nifty words and a bonkers WPM typing average. Otherwise, you’ll find her composing music, playing video games or dancing like no one’s watching.