Agile Learning Games: Applied Improv

The Challenge

In the pursuit of delivering business value, there is no shortage of obstacles to overcome to achieving high levels of trust, good communication, and the ability to have productive conflict on agile scrum or kanban teams.

agile learning gamesThose impediments have the potential to restrict continuous improvement and get in the way of high performance:

  • Between individuals
  • On and across teams
  • Across functional areas
  • Up and down organizational hierarchies

On under-performing teams, ones that are not learning faster, nor delivering value sooner, oft are heard many “Yes, but’s…”

And I propose that the solution is as simple as folks learning to say: “Yes, and…”

A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men. R Dahl Click To Tweet

Applied Improv Offers a Solution

Plussing – the “yes, and” concept – comes straight out of improv. Improv training will help agile teams build trust,  be more vulnerable, more collaborative and have productive conflict (all key prerequisites for high performing teams.)

How? Improv helps people stretch their minds and think more flexibly, unconventionally, and creatively. And it helps people see possibilities they otherwise wouldn’t have seen and make connections they would otherwise not have made.

Besides being a heck of a lot of fun, there’s a sound business rationale behind improv as an agile learning game as well.

Deep Dive

Improv helps people stretch their minds and think more flexibly, unconventionally, and creatively. Click To Tweet

An applied improv training program typically runs half a day. It begins with a short improvised performance by professional improv actors/facilitators.  These facilitators then discuss with the soon-to-be-participants the skills they observed which made the improvisational teamwork successful.

The teams then break into performance groups and through a series of facilitator-guided, on-their-feet, fun activities explore skills in Communication, Collaboration and Innovation.

These exercises, based on improvisational theater techniques, focus on listening, cooperation, multi-tasking, relationship-building, adaptability/flexibility, productive brainstorming, and creative problem-solving.

After each exercise, the facilitator leads a debrief with the team to discuss the skills explored and how they might apply these techniques in their agile work day and ceremonies.

After a series of separate team activities, everyone regroups.  The facilitators perform one or two more games, incorporating  volunteers onstage from each break-out group.

Things then wrap up by asking each participant to turn to a team member and commit to (at least) one behavior change for enhanced communication, collaboration and innovation (I will ____, so that ____).

Metrics of Success

A few of the soft skills these learning games will help improve are:

  • Thinking on the spot and adaptability (innovation, fluidity, culture tolerance, nimbleness, surrendering the need to be ‘right’ )
  • Listening and communication (less interruption, no multitasking, not working off of internal agendas, inquiry, engagement, sensitivity to others)
  • Collaboration – fostering a “yes, and” approach to team work (different perspectives, problem solving, seeing how things ‘can’ work before we start poking holes on why they ‘won’t’, increases the flow of ideas)
  • Supporting each other (trust, transparency, cooperation, empathy, cross functional coordination and problem solving, acceptance of failure)
  • Giving and taking initiative – effectively leading as well as following, supporting and asking for support.
  • Presenting with confidence – Knowing one’s audience  (great for end of Sprint Review / Demo)

Agile Learning Games

foster a ‘yes, and’ approach to teamwork... Click To Tweet

The agile software development process and a scrum/kanban team mirrors improv – there’s no full length script. Teams work with just-in-time minimal documentation, they then deploy (set up a scene), sense feedback (did the audience chuckle or moan), and then respond (amplifying what worked, or rolling back what didn’t.) And with the exception of a few roles (PO, an SM if “dedicated”), no one on the team is forced to stay in the same character for the entire engagement. The team swarms, adapts, moves to where the effort is needed to keep the scene moving…

Roald Dahl wrote: A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.

I couldn’t agree more. Play stimulates parts of the brain that are involved in both careful, logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration. Play doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.

By fostering a ‘yes, and’ approach to teamwork, agile teams build essential skills that will enable them to dive into the infinite realm of possibilities created by trust, creativity and innovation.

 Act It Out…

CTRL-SHIFT

by Mike Bonifer

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