The Hard Science of Teamwork – Harvard Business Review

The Hard Science of Teamwork  – Harvard Business Review.

Fascinating research from Alex Pentland at MIT provides data on how to predict the productivity, performance and perhaps creativity of a team.

Luckily, if you find your team lacking in any of the below attributes, the “how” of communication can be highly trainable:

His data shows great teams:


  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

Often teams fast forward to focus on what is communicated rather than how we communicate. This data (and others) suggest we need to spend more time and energy focusing on how we communicate (and learn to adjust our non-verbal communication skills) to develop the connection, collaboration and trust necessary to produce the “what” (product) that helps your business succeed.

Understanding the science behind buzz-worthy teams is the first step.

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.



How Improv brought two rival companies together

It’s no secret that the business world can be competitive – especially when two companies are going after a similar audience. However, decades of rivalry between two top Animation studios was put aside one night in December – for an event that was fully Improvised!

Pixar’s Improv team, “The Improvibles”, invited the DreamWorks team named “I Heard Chicken, Thank You” for a Improv Theatre Sports competition at their studio – this was a completely novel idea! Naturally, we accepted the challenge. What an amazing opportunity! Up until this point, we had put on shows at our studio but were psyched for a chance to perform for a bigger audience.

One of THE most important rules in Improv is to “make your partner look good”. In other words, take care of each other on stage and off. In this spirit, both teams of Improvisers turned this evening into a celebration instead of a competition – a night of goodwill and community building. It was made easier because we all spoke the same language (Improv), and adhered to the same guidelines. An audience of hundreds was reminded of the collaborative spirit of our industry and how much we can learn from each other in pursuit of a common goal. Two studios truly came together to delight our audience and to leave us all with an experience we’ll always remember.

Improv – collaboration, connection and communication between rival studios.

How can staying true to these Improv guidelines help break down barriers across your business sector?

Know Your Audience

It’s not new advice, but here’s a gentle reminder to marketers, advertisers, sales teams and yes, even stand-up comedians…know your audience.

Tonight my dad was one of several comedians performing at a venue in the San Francisco Bay Area. As an observer, I scanned the crowd and took in the scenery. We were in a slightly upscale Bistro which hosts comedy nights. It was early on a weeknight, and the dinner crowd was mostly Baby Boomers and folks who seemed to like PBS instead of TBS, and Newsweek instead of Rolling Stone.

The lineup for the evening included 6 comedians. Most were in their 60’s, but the first two performers were some thirty or forty years younger which turned out to be a disadvantage for them. Instead of playing to their audience (or pointing out the obvious age difference), the twenty-somethings stuck to jokes made for a younger crowd – drug use, pop culture references, sex. It was an example of a one-size-fits-all approach to comedy, or “selling material”. What could work for one crowd, certainly didn’t work for this one.

Now, the next few comedians fared much better. They told stories, they identified with their audience and had a “hey, I’m just like you!” tone. Guess which group got the bigger laughs and head nods?

As a comedian, facilitator, or salesman – check in with your audience. If you’re not receiving the head nod from the beginning, adjust your approach. Improvise. Say the obvious. And most of all, remember to tailor your message to your audience. It could be the difference between a yawn and a laugh, or a sale and a lost lead.

Here’s a great article on the subject (geared towards Presentations)

Presentation – The Power of “Yes, And”

In November of 2011, I had the privilege of presenting to Rotary Club International. My topic was “The Power of Yes, And”.  My goal was to present a new mindset to 70 professionals, and to have them assess their own tendencies in communication.

In addition to my power point presentation below, I utilized some experiential activities and storytelling techniques to engage the participants and help them feel the difference between “Yes, and”, and blocking – or “Yes, But”.

I am happy to report my presentation was widely praised for its originality, relevance, and humor.

I welcome the opportunity to present on “The Power of Yes, And” for your company, lunch function, or professional organization!


Spontaneity. It’s what we pay for?!

In the world of cell-phone camera, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc… anyone can instantly experience and enjoy their favorite music act or live performance artist, sometimes without paying a dime. Or, if you’ve bought tickets to a concert for example, it’s not unusual to know the set list and see videos of what you can expect before you step foot in the auditorium. So, why do we still attend a show? And where does our enjoyment of the experience come from – besides enjoying the music and time with our friends.

I would argue, it’s for the spontaneity of the experience, and the connection with the performer that comes as a result of that spontaneity and vulnerability. We want our experience to feel special, and anything but just a part of the routine for a performer. We’ve all rolled our eyes when (insert rock stars name) screams, “Hello (insert city name). Maybe they incorrectly pronounce your city, or make it seem like they are just going through the motions.

So, how can learning to be more spontaneous, vulnerable, and more in touch with our audience help sales, word-of-mouth, or your overall impression of your favorite performer? I’d argue it’s why we enjoy the Golden Globes more than the other stuffy awards shows. We have the expectation that “anything can happen!”, instead of a formulaic train-ride of presentations and awards. Mistakes are exciting, not knowing what’s going to happen is thrilling, and being able to say you were part of a night unlike any other night is pretty fulfilling as a fan.

Set the target, know the rules of your performance, but enjoy some improvisation in the middle.

Practicing what I preach

“Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs”….

On January 3rd 2012 I set off on an adventure, off into the world of following my passion and my purpose. This blog will document this journey along with useful tips and tricks in the world of professional development and Applied Improvisation. I’ll share some of what I’ve been working on and working towards. My intended audience is anyone interested in how experiential learning, play and Improvisation can aid adult learning and development. Maybe you are a prospective client, or a friend, or an Improviser. Maybe you are Oprah?? If so, Oprah let’s talk!

So how is the process going so far? I’d say so far it’s all very exciting, scary, invigorating, motivational, risky, freeing, and perfect. And, thanks for asking!

First, let me answer your questions (Mom).

Why this, and why now?

I have been on a lifelong search for passion and purpose, with an almost (ok, real) obsession towards finding it. I knew there could be a way to get paid to do what I love and to find a fulfilling job,career, calling. There were points where I thought I had it figured out, but it turns out I was confusing passion with a hobby, or purpose with ego.

But looking back and trying to connect the dots looking backwards (as Steve Jobs says), it all makes sense. This world combines social psychology, human behavior, play, humor, transformative learning, positive change, challenge, and business. It’s part coach, facilitator, writer, marketer, curious learner, cheerleader, funny person, and pure heart-felt passionate difference-maker.

And so, when I took my first Improv class in 2007 a new passion formed. I’m pretty good at finding passions, but some are fleeting (sorry, Acoustic Guitar, cooking and soda can top collecting from my childhood). This was a passion that aligned much more with who I am and who I hope to become. It brings me so much joy and challenge and ever-lasting learning opportunities.


I was fortunate enough to spend the last two years investing most of my spare time into becoming as close to an expert on this field as I could. I also happened to work in Learning and Development at a Fortune500 company. I poured myself into reading books, talking with pioneers in the field and starting on the path to this new career. It became my unofficial job. It didn’t feel as unnerving and painful like a career change could – but instead a melding of skills from jobs past, life experiences and loads of practice. I taught, gave presentations, and talked up total strangers. I experimented, documented and built up binders worth of information and research. I studied not just Applied Improv but adult learning theory, conflict resolution, leadership development, facilitation, and the list goes on. I wanted to be ready for when opportunities arose. I worked hard to gain credibility and a solid reputation. I looked before I leaped, you could say.

This practice and a career in this field constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone. In fact, I never thought I would take such a risk – but maybe that’s why I in fact, needed to. Things have a way of working out I believe. I’m learning to trust my gut, and stay focused on the goal…


What do I want to accomplish? In Improv we say –  set the target, stick to the basic rules and enjoy the journey. And that’s exactly what I hope to do. I’m searching for more opportunities to teach, facilitate, coach, present and train in adult learning arenas – whether that’s corporate environments, schools, professional organizations, etc. I want to infuse play back into our work, and to teach us to collaborate and communicate better.

Maybe it’s a full time job in People Operations, L&D or HR at a company, and maybe it will continue to be freelance work. I’m open to it all!

So… this is what it feels like to follow your passion. Day 12 and I’ve never been happier.