Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 2

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


In order for a team to be creative together there needs to be a lot of interaction and information sharing.  This can only happen if the communication in the team is very good.  Your responsibility towards yourself is to be fully present and your responsibility toward your team members is to fully listen and be aware of them.   Being fully present and aware of your team members is referred to in Improvisation as “being in the moment”.

Quick exercise:

Next time before you start a meeting first do the following exercise.  Split the group in small groups of 3.  Tell them that each person must tell the other 2 in the group what they need to say to be fully present.  They should start their sentence with “what I need to say to be fully present is….”  One of the other must then mirror that persons exact words by starting their sentence with “I hear that what you have to say to be fully present is…”  It is important that the person mirroring does not give an interpretation of what they heard, but try to use the exact same words as far as possible.  The other person in the group can then add if any detail was not mirrored back to the speaker.  Each person must get a chance to say what they need to say to be fully present.  The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgment.  When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present.  In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.  When last did someone listen to you completely and made you feel fully present? When last did you listen to someone with acceptance and without judgment, helping them to be completely present?

Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – Control

To read more about the other 6 elements of an innovative team climate watch this space.

Improvisation class 7 – 15 June 2010

Breaking routines

This Tuesday’s class was all about breaking routines.  And I’m going to break the routine by writing the rest of the blog in Afrikaans.

HierdieDinsdag inplaas daarvan om klas te hê, het ons almal by Basic bymekaar gekom vir ‘n glasie wyn.  Die rede daarvoor was omdat daar ‘n double booking op die saal was waar ons gewoonlik bymekaar kom.  Ruan, wat die vorige klas gemis het, het gevra waaroor verlede week se klas gegaan het.  Ek het hom toe vertel dat dit gegaan oor storie en dat dit basies daaroor gaan dat ‘n mense goeie storie skep deur ‘n roetine te skep en dan die roetine te breek.  ‘n Vinnige voorbeeld is:  “Een dag lank gelede was daar ‘n dorpie waarniemand ooit gelag et nie (‘n roetine word geskep).  Toe eendag kom daar ‘n bose towenaar na die dorp (roetine word gebreek) en omdat niemand ooit gelag het nie het hy mag oor die mense gehad en hulle sy slawe gemaak (nuwe roetine word geskep).  ‘n Jong seun in die dorp ontdek toe ‘n antieke boek met grappies in sy ouma se huis en begin dit lees en vir die ander mense grappies te vertel.  Vir die eerste keer begin die mense weer lag ontdek (roetine word gebreek).  Al die mense begin toe vir mekaar die grappies oor vertel en soos die mense meer en meer begin lag het die bose towenaar sy mag oor die mense verloor en weg gevlug uit vrees dat hulle hom sal dood lag.  En so het die dorpie bekend geraak as die dorpie waar almal baie lag (‘n nuwe roetine word geskep.  Maar hierdie slag is die roetine beter as die roetine waarmee die storie begin het).  Liezel sê toe dat  ons eintlik ook net besig was om ‘n roetine te breek deur nie klas te hê nie maar ‘n glasie wyn te drink.  Nolan vertel toe dat hy besig is om ‘n roetine te breek deur op te hou rook.  As ons wil hê ons lewens moet beter stories wees is dit nodig dat ons roetines in ons lewens breek.  Baie mense is vasgevang in seker roetines wat hulle verhoed om die lewe voluit te lewe.

Die res van die aand het ons net lekker gekuier.  Luci en Minki het gesels oor skaapvleis verkoop. Ruan het vertel van sy partytjie wat hy vir volgende jaar wil beplan.  En Liezel het ons die storie van die tweeling vertel. Dankie aan almal, dit was ‘n lekker kuiertjie

Team innovation through improvisation – Part 1

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


Click to view
Changes in business environments have resulted in a need for the development of innovative teams, because it is through teams that the management of change through innovation is achieved. One of the factors that play a crucial role in the innovation shown by teams is the climate for innovation within the team. This climate is the same as the climate prevalent in an improvisation theatre group who respond to ideas from their audience, fellow actors and the scenario quickly and creatively and in collaboration with one another. Research has shown that the exercises used by improvisation actors can be used to enhance the innovative climate in a work team. Neuroscience also supports improvisation as an experiential learning tool. Applied improvisation is an emerging field and business schools all over the world are starting to include it as part of their leadership and innovation courses.

The 7 crucial elements of an innovative team climate:

Click to view clip

There are 7 elements that play an important role in an innovative team climate. These elements are Communication, Risk, Control, Ideas, Relationship, Vision and Excellence. In each of these elements each team member has a responsibility towards him/herself and a responsibility towards his/her team members. All of these elements are interrelated and need to work together to create an innovative team climate.

Watch this space for a discussion of each of these elements.

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – ControlIntroduction

Improv Class 6 – 8 June 2010

Story was the focus of last night’s class. We started the class with a word association game call Todododo. We struggled with the game because everyone was still up in their heads so we first did the “what I need to say to be fully present” exercise. We also did a relaxation exercise. Being more present and relaxed made Todododo much better.

After that we played a Word association game. This game illustrated how our minds automatically make links between random words. In the next game everyone paired up with one other person. The one had to come up with 4 unrelated sentences that the other had to connect together to create a story. Relating random events together is what makes a story.

Then we played Automatic Story. In this game one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant. The person asking the questions is therefore making up the story without knowing it. This game illustrates how easy it is to make up our own stories. Isn’t it interesting how in life we also often think that someone else is in control of our stories, while we are actually the authors of our own life stories?

The next game that we played was what happens next? In this game Franz was an old man whose hip broke in 7 places and then he was healed by a Native American who let him smoke his peace pipe. Nolan and Minki where 2 Xhosa woman and Minki didn’t want Nolan to visit her home town where there was a big event happening. The routine of the story was broken when Nolan blew up a giant balloon from the gum that fell out of Minki’s grocery bags. Luci then reincorporated the town where the big event was happening by letting Nolan fly there with the balloon.

Key concepts:

Reincorporation: Recycling or re-using ideas or situations from earlier in the story.

The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.

Breaking routine: Interesting twitch to advance a scene, or to cause status change.

One word proverb: Swart mense hou van eet en drinka

Please share your thoughts.

Improvisation class 5 – 1 June 2010


We started the class with stretches, followed by a name game called George. What I love about this game is how the clapping is like the principles of improv. At first it is really difficult to get the clap sequence right, but after some practice you don’t even think about it anymore. It becomes a structure around which you can just improvise. After George we played “What are you doing?”. This game really stretches your mind and shows how much you actually think with your body.

For the first status exercise I stuck a number on each person’s forehead representing their status, 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest and told them to play a scene in a hospital. The aim of the game is to discover your own status by the way others react towards you. It was interesting to see how those with low status were pushed into the corners of the room, a lot like we do with people with low status in society.

In the next exercise I gave everyone a number that only they could see and told them to play a gibberish scene in a prison. They had to show their own status and try to figure out the status of the other players. It was interesting to note that how much you speak has no influence on your status. Someone who speaks a lot can be a blabbering fool or a one who orders everyone else. Someone who is silent can feel they don’t have anything worth saying or command the attention of others. It all depends on how you talk or stay silent.

Juan made a very valuable comment about positional status and influential status. In the prison the Chief Warden had the most positional status, but the gang leader definitely had the most influential status. Juan also said that he decided to play the chief warden rather than the gang leader because it was easier to take the positional status than the influential status. He commented that in life it is also easier just to ride on your positional status than to have influential status.

For the last part of the class we played 2 person scenes in gibberish, silent or in 1 word sentences using different statuses. The silent, gibberish and one word scenes forces players to show and not tell. It also helps players to pay more attention to what the other player is doing and react more truthfully. For the last round of scenes, one character started with high and the other with low status and during the scene they had to gradually switch their status. This made really interesting scenes.

More thoughts on status:

In all human interaction there is some form of status interaction taking place. In everything you are saying or doing you are either higher or lowering your status, how subtle it might be. People usually have a natural preferred status that they play. Whether it is high or low it is usually a form of defence mechanism. People who prefer high status wants to keep others at a distance while those who play low status are people pleasers. High or low status isn’t inherently good or bad, but understanding how to use status in your interactions with people is a very useful social skill.

Please share some of your thoughts on status.

One word proverb: Wysheid is die beste opsie na dronkverdriet. (ek het dit wragtag weer nie neer geskryf nie en is nie nou seker of dit reg is nie)

Improv Class 4 – 25 May 2010

Class 4 was about character – how they walk talk and feel. We made our way into the world of emotions by playing Emotion switch and Emotion box (passing a box around the circle, each player reacting with a larger emotion than the previous player). It was amazing how you pick up the emotions of others and really start to feel the different emotions. We also played some gibberish games (Emotion gibberish and Gibberish switch). Gibberish helps one to focus more on how a character talks than what they say. How a character talks is just as important if not more important than what the character says. Gibberish also helps you to get out of your head. The last exercise of the class was Character Walks. These game shows you how your body can think for you to make up a character by just changing something about the way you move. You can change any part of your body, the speed of your movement or how you fill the space around you. It is amazing how the way you carry your body influence your feelings. We ended the class with a gibberish performance game called Cluedo. In the end it is not about getting it right but about making a strong choice and sticking to it. I loved the idea of dragon slayer as an occupation. I think that’s what I want to be when I grow up.

Key concepts

Gibberish – A made up language of witch the meaning is conveyed by action, expressions, or tone of voice.

Let your body think for you – By just changing something in your body you can come up with a whoel character with feelings, wants and passions.

Make a strong choice and stick to it.– It is not always important what you choose but how you choose

If anyone can remember our one word proverb please write it in the comment section.

Improv class 3 – 18 May 2010

The third class was all about listening, awareness and being in the moment. We started off with a relaxing exercise to get everyone present and aware of their bodies. We then did a listening exercise where everyone got the opportunity to say “what I need to say to be fully present is…” and then you can say what every you would like to say to be fully present. Anyone else in the group then responds by mirroring the person’s exact words. The power of this exercise is that each person in the group gets the opportunity to be listened to fully. It is not so much saying what you need to say that makes you fully present but being listened to. When we listen to people fully without judgment, we acknowledge their existence and their right to be in the world. (This exercise I learned from Imago relationship therapy)

After the listening exercise we played a series of group awareness exercises. First we passed a move and a sound around in the circle. Then we copied each other’s way of walking. After that one person had to go in the middle and make a move and a sound, give the focus to another player, who had to copy the move and sound and then go to the middle and morph into a new move and sound. We played two other variations of this game. In the first everyone copied the person in the middle and at any point anyone could take the lead and change the move and sound into something else. In the second variation we didn’t stay in a circle and anyone could take the lead. These exercises feel weird when you do it the first time, but if you can let go and really pay attention to what others are doing and once again make them look good (in this case accept whatever they are doing and do it with them) it is a wonderful experience of connecting with others and being in the moment.

After the awareness exercises we played Monster talk (Speaking in unison) which is also a great exercise in active listening and give and take. We ended the class with 2 focus games. In the first we passed around imaginary balls and in the second we created 3 different patterns that we had to continue without dropping any pattern. It was great when we played this game walking around.

Key concepts:

Give and take – It’s all about giving up and taking control, and sharing and taking the focus. To do this well, you have to be aware and present so that you know whether the situation requires of you to take or give up `control/focus.

Listening and awareness: In Improv often referred to as being in the moment. It requires you to be present, pay attention to what is happening around you and to focus. To do this you need to let go, get out of your head and into your body.

Our one word proverb: “Mense het soms baie problem met perskes.” So ture!

Please share your thoughts.

Improv class 2 – 11 May 2010

The focus of the second improv class was accepting and building on offers. We started the class with a relaxing exercise to get everyone relaxed and into their bodies. We played Bang bang and a clap game to get everyone playful and focused. The clap game also illustrated the principle of keeping the energy going. The gifts game followed to illustrate accepting a blind offer. We played Yes but and Yes and to illustrate the difference between blocking and accepting. The questions game showed how asking questions can be a way of accepting without adding new information. In Improv this is called wimping. Then we played Blind offers to illustrate how physical movement can also be an offer. We ended the class with Yes and story and One word story.

Key concepts

Blocking – Not accepting another player’s offer.

Accepting – Embracing each offer made by other players to advance the scene (Yes and).

Wimping – accepting offers but refusing to do anything with them.
Examples are:

Asking open questions , thus leaving the action to be decided by the other player.

Waffling , babbling without accomplishing any action.

Keep the energy going – In improvisation it is important to keep the energy moving. We don’t stop to analyze, we just accept and move on. If a mistake happens we except it and find a way to use it. If you don’t know what to do, just do anything and trust the process and your fellow players to make you look good.

What struck me in the class was how our one word story improved when we just tried to be obvious and didn’t think too much about what the best word would be to use. When you let go, keep the energy going and realize it is not up to you and your one word to save the story, the group becomes a collective creative force.

Please share some of your thoughts.

Improv class 1 – 4 May 2010

Last night was the first class in a series of 8 Improv theatre classes. The objective of the class was to get everyone in a playful mood and to let everyone connect and get to know each other. I also introduced some key improv principles. We started the class with an introduction game. Then we played some name games (Name circle and Super Heroes). We played Circus bow (I failed) to get more comfortable with making mistakes. To get more playful we played Bodyguard and Yes lets . We played Mirror Mirror to illustrate the importance of give and take. I ended the class by illustrating the concepts of Accepting and Blocking by playing Yes and vs. Yes but.

Key concepts that came out of the class:

Play: To play you have to be present, focus on your fellow players and interact with your whole body not just your thoughts and words. Playing is about the process not the outcome.

Make your partner look good.

It is okay to make a mistake. It’s often our fear of failure that causes us to fail.

Everything is an offer even a mistake.

Blocking – Not accepting another player’s offer.

Accepting – Embracing each offer made by other players to advance the scene (Yes and).
When we yes and it builds ideas, energy and relationships.

What struck me about the class was how everyone really engaged and took part even though it was a first class. I would like to thank you all for that.

Please feel free to add your comments.

Peter Block Community Building Workshop offer

At the Community Building workshop Playing Mantis made a commitment to offer a free workshop to everyone who attended.

The offer includes:
• 1 half-day workshop per organisation
• 1 Hour consultation before the workshop to understand your story and specific needs
• Transport is not included.
• This offer is only valid for 2010.

If you are interested in our offer please contact us at

More about Playing Mantis

We use improvisation theatre for action learning, and story-making for metaphoric experiences to develop organisations, individuals and communities to play their roles more meaningfully in a changing world. F

Possible workshop topics:

Team innovation
Whose idea is it anyway?
Collaborative creativity skills to develop an innovative team climate

Change leadership
Think on your feet.
Skills to help you lead through change and uncertainty

Values based leadership
Follow your own flute
Making decisions based on your values and the values of your team

Conflict leadership
Taking the lead role
Choosing which role to play in a conflict so that you and your team can grow.

Transformational leadership
Designing journeys
Using story to design events and processes to ensure transformation of all involved

Customer interaction
Sell with soul
Communication skills to help build better customer relationships