Use this improvisation technique to build collaboration

When I started working with organizations three decades ago, my clients were asking these questions: How can we delight customers, nurture innovation in our services and products, stay ahead of the competition, attract and retain top talent, effectively market our products and services, and increase sales?

Back then, it looked like the answer was to hire the best and brightest individuals.

My clients are still asking the same questions, but the answer has changed. Collaboration is today’s answer to how an organization stays innovative, customer-centric, competitive and profitable.

Don’t get me wrong, we still need talented employees. But as a report from the Yale School of Management points out: “If you want to outstrip the competition, you have to focus not only on how people work, but how they work together.”

Organizations benefit from successful collaboration. So do participants. As one respondent to my survey said, “There is a phenomenal sense of accomplishment in achieving as a group what could not have been achieved as individuals.”

But you can’t force people to collaborate. Knowledge can only be volunteered – and working collaboratively is likely to be resisted by three types of people: Misers, Higdsights and Oracles. Misers don’t collaborate because they believe that holding onto knowledge makes them more powerful, Hindsights fixate on the past because they don’t have the skills needed for a collaborative future, and Oracles see no need to collaborate because they’ve already found the right answer.

If you are trying to encourage collaboration from people with similar mindsets, consider these tips:

  • Help Misers realize that hoarding knowledge may have been effective at a time when it had a longer shelf life. But today, when the rapid pace of change makes knowledge obsolete so quickly, holding onto it doesn’t make sense. The new model for gaining power and influence includes building a reputation for learning quickly and sharing what you know while it’s still valid.
  • Hindsights benefit from adopting a growth mindset. A mindset is a perception people have about themselves that plays a key role in how they evaluate their ability to change. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talents are simply fixed traits. When adopting a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities can be developed – and that they can learn whatever new collaborative skills may be required. By the way: Neuroscience is fully in the growth-mindset camp. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s lifelong capacity to change, strengthen, and rewire itself through experience and practice.
  • In our increasingly complex and ambiguous world, Oracles need to realize that there is more than a single right answer to an organizational challenge. Which means, one person doesn’t have to be wrong for another to be right. Or as I remind my audiences, “There is more than one right way to deliver babies, pizza, or a joke.”

Although Misers, Hindsights and Oracles may have distinct personalities, they have one thing in common with every other member of your team: The human need for psychological safety. I’ve seen it over and over in organizations around the world. In teams where all members feel personally appreciated and where their input is respected, people participate more deeply.

Here is where introducing an improvisation technique can help.

At the foundation of improv comedy is the “Yes . . . and” rule. Improvisational actors are taught never to contradict their scene partners. Instead, their task is to build on whatever was said.

To demonstrate the impact of this approach, in my “Collaborative Leadership” seminars, I put the audience into groups of two (A and B) and ask them to design the next seminar: They have an unlimited budget, can go anywhere in the world, and include any activities.

In the first round A offers suggestions, and after each one B replies, “Yes . . . but” and gives one reason why it can’t be done. After a couple of minutes, I have them switch roles. This time B offers suggestions and A says, “Yes . . . and,” then adds one idea that builds on the plan that B is creating.

This short exercise lets people experience how difficult it is to continue contributing when their ideas are being dismissed — and how easily ideas flow when people feel their input is acknowledged and valued.

Collaborative leaders create environments where everyone on their team feels they can speak up without fear of rejection or ridicule. Give the “Yes . . . and” technique a try and see how it helps create the psychological safety in which collaboration and knowledge sharing naturally thrive — even for Misers, Hindsights, and Oracles.

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This article first appeared on Forbes