Change 3 things


• Practice awareness skills.
• Practice creativity.
• Ice breaker.


In Pairs participants observe each other then turn around and change 3 things about their appearance. When they turn back to each other they must try to identify everything that their partner has changed.

Time: 10 min

Number of participants: 2 – 200

Game flow:

Ask all the participants to pair up. Tell them to observe each other. Then tell them to turn around and change 3 things about their appearance. For example role up one sleeve or take off an earring. Let them turn back to one another and try identifying everything that the partner has changed. You can repeat the game a few rounds, every time increasing the amount of changes.


People are often resistant to change their appearance but don’t let that flounder you. When people get over their initial resistance they will get great value from the exercise.

Debrief questions:

• What struck you about the exercise?
• How did you feel during the exercise?
• How was your awareness different than usual?
• Was it difficult or easy to find so many things to change about your appearance?

Walking exercise


• Illustrates the art of creative leadership.
• Practices giving and taking control.
• Practices awareness and focus.
• Practices collaboration.


Participants walk around in the space. In the first round everyone stops and starts walking when the facilitator claps their hands. In the last round everyone stops and starts at the same time without the facilitator clapping their hands.

15 min

Number of participants: 6 – 50

Game flow:

Have the participants walk around the space spreading them evenly across the floor. Tell them to stop when you clap your hands and to start walking when you clap again. Do this for a while varying the intervals. Then tell the participants that they have to do exactly the same thing, walking and stopping at the same time without you clapping your hands.


It is important that the participants do not talk during the exercise.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• What was different between the first and second round?
• Who was in control in the first and second round?
• Which round did they enjoy the most?
• What does this game reveal about leadership?

“Yes and” exercise

“Yes and” is a phrase that improvisers use to describe the principle of accepting ideas and building on them.  This principle is important for any team that wants to develop an innovative team climate (click here for an article on innovative team climate).

Here is a quick exercise to introduce the principle of “Yes and” to your team. Let everyone pair up with a partner.  Tell them that together they have to plan a company Christmas party.  One must start by sharing an idea. The other replies with the words “Yes but”, and a reason why the afore mentioned idea cannot work, and then this participant shares another idea. The first then replies with “yes but” and so they go back and forth blocking each other’s ideas.  After a while stop them and ask them to plan the same party but this time instead of saying “yes but” they must start their sentences with “yes and”, accepting the other’s idea and building on it. Reflect on the exercise and ask the following questions.

  • How did accepting feel different from blocking?
  • How were their outcomes different?
  • How did they feel about the other person when being blocked or being accepted?
  • What are the benefits and the costs of accepting?
  • What are the benefits and costs of blocking?

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Team Innovation Workshop

A half day workshop for managers and team leaders who want to learn practical ways to develop their team’s ability to collaborate and innovate.

Contact us to make a booking or find out more.

Innovation, Teamwork and Improvisation

The world of work is characterised by high levels of uncertainty due to constant change, forcing organisations to innovate recurrently in order to survive. Researchers agree that working as part of a team plays a very important role in the process of innovation within organisations, as teams stimulate creativity and innovation. The development of Team Innovation is therefore crucial to help organisations to adapt faster to the demands of change. This emphasis on team innovation is very prevalent in value statements and guiding principles of many organisations.

Having teamwork and innovation as values laminated on your wall is however not going to improve your team’s ability to work more creatively together. Having people work in teams and expecting them to therefore automatically be more innovative, often has the opposite effect. Individuals become in many cases less innovative when they work in a team. The reason for this is the nature of the team’s climate. Team climate refers to the shared perceptions of team members in terms of what is expected of them, work standards, recognition and their feelings about their manager and one another.

The following table shows the characteristics of an innovative team climate in contrast to a non innovative team climate.

Innovative team climate Non-innovative team climate
All the members participate in discussions and decision making. Members don’t participate and decisions are made by the most dominating person.
Members are aware of others and listen to one another. Members don’t listen to one another.
Members take risks and make it safe for others to take risks by accepting failures. Members don’t take risks and ridicule others who take risks that fail.
Control is shared by the whole group.  Individuals take initiative and allow others to take initiative . Control belongs to one person and others aren’t empowered to take initiative.
Ideas are appreciated and there is a high level of trust and support amongst team members. Members don’t trust or support one another and ideas are criticised rather than appreciated.
Members accept and build on each other’s ideas. Members block each other’s ideas.
Members share a clear and common goal. The goal is not clear and not shared by everyone in the team.

So is your team’s climate innovative or non-innovative?  And if it is non-innovative, how can one change it to become innovative?

This was the question that I grappled with when I was doing my Masters research in Industrial Psychology. I looked for teams who succeeded in working together in a team, very creatively under high pressure and much uncertainty, to see what I could learn from them. I found such teams in a place very out of the ordinary, namely Improvisational Theatre. Improv theatre groups work together very creatively under the pressure of a demanding audience and the uncertainty of having no script. How could these people do something so daunting that most people would rather die than do? And this may also be exactly the reason why most teams tend to be more non-innovative that innovative – it is because being creative is scary. It is making yourself vulnerable in front of others. Yet, somehow improvisers have found a way to make it safe and to create a team climate in which creativity can thrive. Improvisers do this by applying a few basic principles of which I will share two in this article.  These are 1) appreciation and 2) building on ideas or in Improvisation lingo … as 1) “make your partner look good” and 2) “yes and”.

In her book, “Time to think”, Nancy Kline emphasizes the importance of appreciation to create a thinking environment. This appreciation of another’s idea is described in Improv by the phrase “Make your partner look good”. It means that when a fellow player makes an offer you make him/her look good by accepting it with enthusiasm. This relates in an organizational context that whatever idea your team members share, you don’t make them feel foolish for sharing it.  You regard their offer as a gift of great value. When team members start appreciating each other’s ideas by focusing on the value of the idea instead of criticising it and looking for reasons why it won’t work it builds trust amongst the members and people start feeling safe to share their ideas.

It doesn’t stop with appreciating ideas however. After you appreciated your team member’s idea, build on it. Actors in an Improvisation theatre group call this acceptance and building on ideas the “yes and” principle. When an idea is not accepted, it is called a “block”. The way we often block one another in real life is by saying “yes but”. Most people are more used to saying “yes but” than “yes and”. Every time someone shares an idea and it is blocked by another team member, the likelihood that the person will share another idea is diminished. Therefore to create an atmosphere that promotes idea sharing, start applying the “yes and” principle.

The “yes and“ principle is more a mindset than anything else. In her TED talk entitled “Improv not just for comedy anymore”, Cat Koppet states that applying “yes and” doesn’t mean that you agree with everyone, but rather that you accept others reality. It is a mindset of accepting a situation and doing something useful with it. Kline notes that the human mind works best in the presence of a whole picture of reality. This contains positive and negative aspects. Most of the time there are more positives than negatives in the complete picture of a situation. Carol Painter, the developer of the Negative Reality Norm Theory, states that according to society a realistic picture of reality is more negative than positive.  Being positive is regarded as naïve and vulnerable. Whereas being critical is informed and sophisticated. Therefore most organizations function on this negative norm, resulting in the pervasiveness of “yes butting” and team climates that stifle innovation.

Right now you might think “yes, but I can’t say yes to all ideas all the time”.  Yes and you might be saying this because you are already in a mindset of “blocking” rather than “accepting”. It is true there are appropriate times to block, but they are far less than appropriate times to accept. Try the “yes and” principle for a day and see what happens.

Click here for an exercise to introduce the “yes and“ principle to your team.

Team Innovation Workshop

A half day workshop for managers and team leaders who want to learn practical ways to develop their team’s ability to collaborate and innovate.

Date: 20 May
Time: 9:00 – 13:00
Venue: Stellenbosch
Contact Burgert on 0822559625 or

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 5

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


How to build team relationships that promote innovation.

The relationships between the members of an innovative team are based on trust and support. Your responsibility towards yourself is to be trusting and trustworthy, whilst your responsibility towards the rest of the team is to support them. The phrase we use in Improvisation to describe this element is “make your partner look good”. When everyone in the team is out to make the rest of the team look good it creates a safe environment where everyone feels safe to share new ideas. We are so used to just making our selves look good, but if you know that everyone in your team is out to make you look good it takes a lot of pressure from your shoulders and it builds trust between you and the rest of the team. Besides ,everyone in the team will look amazing if there are 10 others making them look good instead of everyone just trying to make themselves look better than the rest.

Quick exercise:

Here is a fun game from improvisation theatre that illustrates the “make your partner look good” concept very well. The game is called “Yes lets!” For this exercise you need enough space for everyone to move around. The game starts with anyone in the group making a suggestion for an action such as “Let’s climb a tree!” or “lets bake a cake!” Everyone then replies with the words “Yes lets!”, and mimes the action with enthusiasm. At any point someone else can make a new suggestion and everyone replies again with “Yes lets!”

The best way to make your team members look good is by accepting their suggestions and doing the action with enthusiasm. If someone said something like “let’s roar like lions” and just did it by himself, he would look like a fool and probably feel like one as well. What I love about this game is that you don’t just say yes I like your idea; you actually have to accept the idea by doing something with commitment. Often we will say we accept someone’s ideas but it’s just lip service, because we don’t actually take any action. The safety, trust and support that is generated when everyone in the team is committed to making the rest of the team look good, creates a energetic atmosphere in which innovation can thrive.

Make your partner look good story

Last night my wife told me a beautiful story about how a family made their mother look good by accepting an offer and doing something with it. In this story the offer the mother made wasn’t an idea; it was a reality that was imposed on her without her choice. She was diagnosed with throat cancer. In her final week her last wish was to have a meal with her family, since she loved cooking and sharing dinner with her loved ones. She couldn’t swallow the food because of the cancer and therefore had to spit it out after chewing it. Seeing this, her family also spat out their food after chewing. They made her look good by accepting her reality and doing it with her. Accepting other’s reality, whether it is their creativity, personality or hardship and doing something with it is how you show real acceptance and that is how you build trust in your relationships with others.

More on trust

People often tell me that they can’t trust others because the others aren’t trustworthy. What comes first, trust or trustworthiness? People will say others must earn their trust. Does that mean you treat them untrustworthy until they have earned your trust? People will react in the way that you treat them. If you treat someone as untrustworthy, they will act untrustworthy. But what if you trust someone and they disappoint you? That is where grace comes in, because you know you are also not perfect and also not always 100% trustworthy. Accept the mistake and do something with it. The more trusting you are going to be the more trustworthy the people in your team will become.

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 3

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


For a team to be innovative individuals in the team must take risks and help the others to feel safe to take risks. Most people are terrified of taking risks because they are afraid of failing and how others will react when they fail. So in order to protect ourselves from others we rather not take any risks. The irony is that some of the most revolutionary inventions started out as a failure. Just think of penicillin that was invented when a scientist noticed that his “failed” experiment was killing bacteria. Or post-it notes that was invented when a researcher of 3M who wanted to develop a very strong adhesive just created a somewhat sticky substance. His colleague accepted the “mistake” and used it to stick his bookmark in his hymn book. In improvisation we say “everything is an offer”, even a so called mistake. Your responsibility towards yourself to help create an innovative team climate is to take risks. Your responsibility toward your team members is to accept their failures and do something with it.

Quick exercise:

Before you start your next brainstorming session let everyone stand in a circle. Tell them that everyone will get the chance to step forward into the circle, then say anything in the line of “I made a mistake” or “I failed” and then give a big bow. The rest of the group must then give a round of applause. This exercise is called circus bow, because whenever a trapeze artist makes a mistake and falls down into the net, he will make a summersault out of the net and bow towards the audience as if that was exactly what was supposed to happen. Ask the following debrief questions:

How did that make you feel being applauded for stating that you made a mistake?

How did it feel to applaud the others?

What can we learn from this exercise?

How can we help each other to take risks?

Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

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

Team innovation through improvisation – Part 1

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


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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:

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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