TOOL: It’s all about the debrief… six questions to spark informative answers

How does this relate – is often the debrief question we as facilitators go to, to spark some meaningful answers.

Yes, and we can delicately and deliberately lead our participants to more truthful, reflective and relevant conversation by asking them a series of questions that bring about the golden nuggets of learning — learning that moves you forward as a team, and individual or an organization.

Thanks to training guru Thiagi and a helpful refresher of his methodology last week at the Applied Improv Network San Francisco chapter meeting, here’s picture proof of my six favorite debrief questions.

What’s the drill – June 26: “Yes, and” instead of a “yes man”

What’s the drill for June 26th seeks to clear up a misconception about the phrase, “yes, and”.

When I first started improvising, I tried to apply the phrase, “yes, and” everywhere off-stage.

I can’t say no, I thought. I must “yes, and” everything. It pushed me to take more risks, to increase my learning and experiences and to learn more about myself. But it also made me feel a bit off-center and frankly…tired.

As one of my most favorite Improvisers and mentors likes to say, “saying YES, AND” to everything results in a messy life.

Instead, we as leaders, employees, friends, and people can see the phrase, “yes, and” as a mindset that allows us to more confidently trust our instincts and gut reactions. It allows us to withhold judgement, to be more accepting, open, patient, appreciative, collaborative, and even kinder.

We can practice the “yes, and” mindset to turn it into a habit – where we say yes to the things and ideas that fuel and inspire us, and become more accepting and supportive of the things that don’t. You get to choose.



What’s the drill – April 9: What it means to be flexible

Improvisers know how to “go with the flow”. We are trained to be as flexible, malleable, adaptable, and as open-minded as we can.

Because we are making things up as we go along (and really, who isn’t!), we learn to follow guidelines that allow us to navigate the unknown. One of these guidelines is:

Accept whatever is given to you. 

On stage, this is our obligation. We must accept whatever our partner says, whatever reality is created, and wherever the scene goes. Accept whatever is given to you.

The opposite of acceptance is denial. If we deny on stage, we are choosing to block the ideas and contributions of our fellow players, stop the flow of the story and the action, and are in essence letting our partner know we don’t like that direction. Accept whatever is given to you.

As improvisers, we allow the information we are given to change us. When we accept whatever is given to us, we know our characters must often change in the process.

Applying these guidelines off of the improv stage can allow individuals to increase their capacity for acceptance, flexibility, open-mindedness, and collaboration.

When we know we must accept whatever is given to us, it releases some of the fear of where to go next. This doesn’t mean we have to like what we accept, it simply means we must adapt to it and honor the suggestion.

We accept, accept, and accept some more, deny a lot less, and see the path take shape one step at a time.


“Yes” is the new normal – via Seth Godin

Seth’s Blog: The coalition of No.

The coalition of No

“It’s easy to join.

There are a million reasons to say no, but few reasons to stand up and say yes.

No requires just one objection, one defensible reason to avoid change. No has many allies–anyone who fears the future or stands to benefit from the status quo. And no is easy to say, because you actually don’t even need a reason.

No is an easy way to grab power, because with yes comes responsibility, but no is the easy way to block action, to exert the privilege of your position to slow things down.

No comes from fear and greed and, most of all, a shortage of openness and attention. You don’t have to pay attention or do the math or role play the outcomes in order to join the coalition that would rather things stay as they are (because they’ve chosen not to do the hard work of imagining how they might be).

And yet the coalition of No keeps losing. We live in a world of yes, where possibility and innovation and the willingness to care often triumph over the masses that would rather it all just quieted down and went back to normal.

Yes is the new normal. And just in time.”

What’s the drill – March 13: A team building quick-win

Even the strongest teams need an occasional energy jolt.

Here’s a quick tip for instant team-building, inspired by an Improv workshop.

Count how many scenarios you can apply this to.

12 Improvisers from different backgrounds, with different styles and different perspectives on the art form recently came together to form a new troupe. We’ve had minimal rehearsal time, and are attempting a brand new format. Talk about a team-building challenge.

At the end of our final rehearsal, the week before our first show – it seemed we needed a quick and positive way to develop connection, empathy and a bit more trust.

I asked, can we all answer this one question….?

“What inspires and delights you on-stage? What makes you happiest?”

We each took turns answering this question, and in the process developed insights into our team members that allowed us to connect on a more personal level.

Understanding what makes us tick and feel inspired at work is imperative to bringing out the best in each other.

Try this, or something similar for a quick jolt. Even being asked this question by a colleague does wonders to open the lines of communication. endorses Improvisation as a tool to solve their biggest challenge

What does a company do when it feels fresh out of ideas? Lacking some spirit and encouragement for innovation?

In the case of popular internet company, they bring Improvisation to their entire workforce, including software engineers.

Watch here to see CEO Doug Leeds’ overwhelming endorsement of Improvisation as a tool that builds skills needed for innovation and creativity.

Congratulations to my Applied Improv Network colleague Sue Walden! Let’s keep it going!

What’s the drill – Feb 29: To succeed at customer service, learn this skill…

Here is perhaps the most important secret to providing quality customer service…and it doesn’t involve formulas, spreadsheets, or surveys. Better yet, this secret skill is trainable and applies to all sorts of industries and sales scenarios from high-end products to restaurants:

Learn how to read the room.

Take this article from the Wall Street Journal which profiles the training initiatives of several U.S. chain restaurants. For them, the secret to quality service is the ability to read the table. Staff is heavily trained on listening and observation skills including non-verbal communication/ body language cues.

A decision to invest in heightening listening and observation skills can have a positive effect on your bottom line, especially when the result is more personalized and individualized customer service:

“Called “having eyes” for a table, or “feeling” or “reading” the table by restaurant workers, it’s how the best waiters know what type of service you prefer before you tell them. From fine dining to inexpensive chains, restaurants are working to make service more individualized as the standard script is sounding dated…” 

“Even chain restaurants like Denny’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill are focusing more on personalized service by training staff to note body language, eye contact and offhand remarks, hoping to make service feel less mechanical”.

“We changed ‘suggestive selling’ to ‘situational selling’,… Instead of offering every breakfast guest one additional item, say biscuits and gravy, waiters are taught to adjust their offer depending upon the guest.”

An improviser is always working on heightening their observation skills. Not only are they skilled at flexible and agile communication, but they must make sense of a large amount of information within seconds and know how to engage and continue the scene. Consider adding some Applied Improv training to your next customer-service and sales training initiatives and apply it the next day to your next customer service interaction.

What’s the drill – February 24: One game, many applications

“A game is just an excuse for a debrief”, says Thiagi – game and performance training guru.

Here’s a great game to play which will lead to fascinating debriefs regarding leadership development, communication skills training,  and team-building.

“Ball”  is the name of the game, and it’s one any group can play. I first learned “ball” in my Foundation 1 improv class at BATS Improv in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve played ball to begin almost every single improv class I’ve taken.  Beyond it being a ton of fun, it’s also a great physical warm-up and a way to foster a group mind.

To play, all you need is a plastic or koosh-like large ball.

1. Grab your group and stand in a circle so that everyone can see each other.

2. One person starts with the ball and hits it in the air.

3. Each time the ball is hit/touched by a member of the group, the players count together in unison (1, 2, 3, and so on). The goal of the game is to keep the ball in the air without it touching the ground. Everyone must count together out loud, and a player may not hit the ball twice in a row (like the rules of volleyball).

4. If the ball falls, or if a player touches the ball twice in a row, the game resets and counting starts over again at 1.

5. The goal is to work together as a team and see how high of a number your team can get to.

Try this game with your team and see how you do. What strategies did you use? Most importantly, what can this game teach us about leadership, communication skills, commitment, and team-work? Check in Monday for some results.