Have fun at work blog

How to have fun at work: lessons from an improviser

It’s a new year! What are you going to do this year to make work more fun?

As you know by now, when I talk about fun at work, I’m not talking about messing around, not doing the job. I’m talking about taking responsibility for making each day as enjoyable as you want it to be. Sure, some days suck due to circumstances beyond our control: an awkward meeting with the boss, a demanding client, a broken coffee machine. But wouldn’t it be great if, even during those days, you could still go home feeling ok with the world and looking forward to another day back in the office tomorrow? Well, maybe you can.

A while ago, I launched the first in a series of articles exploring what the world of work has to learn from the world of comedy improv. It looked at teams and how they can function better together by adopting the key skills of listening, trusting and supporting. In this post, I look at how you can take an improv-inspired approach to get more from your job personally.

For those who haven’t yet read the previous article, let’s briefly clarify once again what I mean by “improv.” Improv stands for “improvisation”, the name given to a form of performance where actors make scenes up in real-time on stage, based on suggestions from the audience. Normally this is funny; sometimes it is poignant; always it is impressive.

What makes it so impressive is how well it works, even when it hasn’t been pre-planned. There are a few core principles that every improv player (you “play” at improv) must adhere to in order for the scene to work. In adhering to these principles, the player ensures that they make the most of the scene they are in, thus providing a better, more entertaining performance to the audience. Translated into the work environment, this means that by adopting these principles, you, too, could make the most of your day resulting in a greater level of work satisfaction all round.

Principle number 1: Everything’s an offer

In the last article we looked at the idea of ‘yes…and,’ where you are encouraged to see the value of everything anyone in your team brings, and to then build on it with further skills and ideas. The idea that everything’s an offer is similar in that it’s about seeing everything that happens in your day as an opportunity. Let’s take that broken coffee machine. Ok, so it wasn’t planned, and it’s screwed you up because you don’t get your caffeine fix. Grrr! But actually, this is an offer to get a bit of fresh air and go out to get a coffee, maybe even try that new coffee cart on the corner. Or, perhaps it’s an offer to start cutting down on caffeine, or to say hi to the office manager who you’ve never really spoken to when you report that it’s broken or…or…or…

Let’s look at that awkward meeting with your boss. It’s an offer to listen to her and learn more about her; it’s an offer to speak to her about that thing you’ve been putting off for ages; it’s an offer to change your environment from being stuck behind your desk; it’s an offer to practice choosing your response; it’s an offer to strengthen your relationship with her….

I think you get the idea. Everything’s an offer, and if you choose to take that offer, you can help to shape the outcome.

 Principle number 2: There are no mistakes

This one sounds great in theory, but tricky when your boss so clearly disagrees! In improv, any slip-ups made by any of the players on stage are incorporated into the act as if they were intended to be there all along. If a character is called the wrong name, for example, it may transpire that he has an alter-ego that only some of the other characters knew about; if a player trips when they enter the stage, it’s because there was a wonky paving slab. Never is the “mistake” acknowledged on stage as a “whoops, sorry, I’ll do that again” – in fact, often it is incorporated into the story – and never is the finger pointed at the end of a performance at someone who “messed it up.” Everything that happens on stage is just what happens on stage.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every mistake you make in an office environment be shrugged off as something you intended all along – “yeah, I meant to put the wrong date on that report, it makes it look like we did it quicker” – but I do wonder what difference it could make to your work day if mistakes were more accepted as par for the course; if we were more forgiving of our own and others’ mistakes. See them as offers. They are just something that has happened.

Rather than getting frustrated, ask yourself, or your colleague who made the mistake, what led to that mistake being made. Maybe it was lack of relevant information, maybe it was lack of attention, maybe it was lack of enough breakfast to fuel you through the morning. Whatever the underlying reason, it’s unlikely to be intentional so accepting it and identifying what caused it will a) help you feel better and b) help the same thing being avoided in the future. It doesn’t need to make it into a bad day.

There are no mistakes, just things that happen in the way you want them to and things that happen in the way you don’t want them to. When they happen in a way you don’t want them to, work with that and learn from it.

Principle number 3: Notice more

The last principle I’m going to talk about today is around taking more notice of your surroundings. Because to an improviser everything is an offer, improvisers will become very adept at noticing everything they see, hear and feel around them, in case it could be a useful offer to take their scene somewhere new and exciting. They will listen attentively to everything their fellow players say, they will be hawk-eyed in spying gestures their team mates make that suggest character, they will retain details from scenes just gone and spot opportunities to bring these back into the current scene with expert timing. They could not do any of this if they were not always noticing everything.

But how can this help you at work? If you can learn to notice everything around you, you too can become as adept as an improviser at spotting opportunities that perhaps others have missed, and enrich your everyday experience. If you start to notice more about your colleagues, you can improve your relationships with them: how they look, how they’re behaving, what mood they’re in, where they need support, where they can offer you support. If you start to notice more about what’s happening in your office, you can appreciate new things about your company: who’s meeting who, who’s chatting about what, what’s the mood like each day, what other teams are working on, where your skills can enhance things. And if you start to notice more about yourself and how you are experiencing each day, you can live each day with more purpose and intention: how you are feeling, what you are avoiding, what you are looking forward to, what you want from today, where you can focus your attention to be the best use.

This may seem odd, but I challenge you to give it a go. Perhaps just choose one thing to start with to deliberately notice throughout your day, and see what difference this makes to your experience.

So that’s it. Three things to remember, three things to try out for 2016 to help you have more fun at work.

  • Everything’s an offer
  • There are no mistakes
  • Notice more

Try it out and please do let me know how it goes!

If you’re interested to hear more about the ideas in this article, then don’t miss me discussing them in more detail with Aran Rees on the latest No Wrong Answers Podcast. And if you’re keen to give any improv a go, I’ll be running a few quick introductory workshops at the Museum of Happiness pop-up launch event in Spitalfields, London this weekend from 16th – 18th January. It’s free, so come on down!

And of course, don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter to be sure not to miss out on more tips and tools for having a better day at work!

, , , , ,