Within the field of comedy, amateur improv seems to have cultivated a particularly bad reputation. But that hardly seems fair considering the overwhelming success of the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?“. Yes, those were professional improv actors that we were watching, but let’s be real.
We are all guilty of having watched clips from that show for hours on end. Or, if you were lucky enough, maybe you had the chance to watch it live on cable TV or even in the studio audience.
Either way, however you may have come across the show, you’re likely wondering what exactly it was, and is, about Whose Line that makes the show so successful and engaging for the audience as a whole. And while there may be a myriad of answers to that question, it all really boils down to one thing that each of the performers knew how to do incredibly well: they knew how to build a team amongst themselves.
If you’re a comedian, you might be thinking that your job is all about being a one-person show. But that could not be farther from the truth. In fact, you’d be surprised to learn just how vital team building is within this unique field of entertainment full of entertainers and how it can help you excel within your own career.
At the end of the day, comedy, at its core, is about storytelling. And any story is going to require a great deal of collaboration.
This collaboration might be between you and other live or virtual comics either onstage or off, or it might even be between you and the audience during a solo set. If you’re workshopping a set, you’re going to want the feedback of other professionals who know just how difficult it is to fill even five minutes of solo stage time. And if you’re performing a set, you’re going to want to get to know the audience so as to keep them engaged throughout.
In both instances, you’re building a coalition. And that coalition is going to be the very foundation of a successful performance.
Gaining the invaluable skill to be able to work together with others will have you listening and responding appropriately to those around you. So by prioritizing team building within your career and cultivating a team with everyone you encounter, you will find that there are far more opportunities for you to take advantage of than you ever thought before.
See Related: Why Is Team Building Important?
What Are the Benefits of Team Building?
Team building, especially in entertainment, is an incredible skill for any performer to yield. Being able to work with others towards a common goal makes for a better performance ensemble and a more fulfilling experience on stage. So what are the exact benefits that team building can provide?
Working with a common set of rules might sound restraining. But having those restraints is the very fuel for your creative power. When working with other team members, you’re forced to make decisions quickly as your choices inevitably affect those around you.
Pushing through your inhibitions will also help you to build trust with others as well as with yourself.
Brainstorming sessions sound intimidating on their own. But the beauty of brainstorming within a team is that each person’s contribution makes for yet another rung on the ladder.
Your focus will be set on the overall group objective, not on your individual gain. And the importance of team building will help you remember how to implement the “yes-and” principle, a vital tool for problem solving and exploring a new idea onstage.
Team building exercises might not always yield amazing results. But the importance of team building activities is to work through the strengths and weaknesses of a group so that the coalition as a whole can invariably build trust. In order to be an effective team and effective team member, you must first assess your role within the group.
Understand how you can contribute to the overall group objective. And trust your fellow comedians in building a culture where everyone can work together cohesively.
The ultimate purpose of team building is to break down barriers and foster communication.
A team has to be able to trust one another in order to improve. And by building trust together, you can engage in a fun and productive culture that values creativity and increases morale overall. After all, a team that builds trust makes for an environment in which everyone feels motivated to achieve their highest potential.
#3. Communication and Listening
A strong team is a team that knows how to communicate well with one another. Team building activities encourage each team member to engage in their active listening skills and break any bad habits that might impede successful communication.
Listening to your team members also improves your overall performance.
If you’re working to create an engaging scenario on stage, then your team members are the very fuel for your creative storytelling. Saying yes to any new element that they add gets you out of your comfort zone and pushes you to strengthen your communication together. And with enough practice, that kind of communication will help you grow, learn, and read your team members better than you ever could before.
#4. Thinking Quickly On Your Feet
One of the most impressive things any comedian can have in their toolbelt is impeccable timing and fast thinking. And through team building activities, you can start to cultivate these skills by engaging with others’ ideas that you might not have thought of before.
On stage and in the moment, your team members will need you to respond with purpose and skill.
And to develop a feel for your team members’ needs will greatly improve your ability to come up with solutions and come up with them quickly. Team building activities will help you feel more comfortable responding to unexpected situations. You’ll be forced to answer questions with authority and this will only increase your stage presence and performance savvy. Like a skilled emcee reacting seamlessly in a live or virtual environment, being present and in the moment is a unique quality that leaders possess.
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5 Improv Activities to Try
Now that you’re familiar with the invaluable skills that team building can provide you, below are a couple of activities for you to try out with your team members. These exercises will strengthen your communication, enhance your productivity, and foster your collaboration with others.
#1. Count to 20 as a Team
This team building exercise gets you to listen to your team members and feel out a collective process. Start by having everyone stand in a circle with their eyes closed. Then, someone will start the count on “one.”
Team members will keep the count going up to twenty, one by one. But if two people say the same number at the same time, everyone must start over again.
This activity gets the team to focus on a collective goal. It also encourages listening and asks each individual to take responsibility for the team as a whole.
#2. Build A Story
One person will start to tell the first sentence of a story. Then the next player will add to the story by replying, “yes, and…” before going into their subsequent sentence. Each team member will go on to add a sentence until the story ends by itself.
The importance of team building in this exercise relies on an individual’s willingness to accept and build upon the person who goes before them.
#3. Problem and Solution
This fun and important activity will get teams to start building off of one another. Two teammates will create a conversation that follows the structure below:
Player 1: “I have a problem: (describe problem)”
Player 2: “Here, I have a (random object)”
Player 1: “Great! I can do (something with the object) to (find a solution). Thank you!”
While it may sound simple, this activity can increase trust among players and help them work together towards a common goal. This positive and fun exercise also gets the ideas flowing.
#4. Salt and Pepper
To start this activity, make a list of well-known pairs such as “salt and pepper” or “ketchup and mustard.” Write one half of the pairs on a sheet of paper and tape that sheet of paper to each player’s back.
Teammates will then mingle with one another and try to figure out the word on their back by asking others yes or no questions. Once they know what they are, they will start to look for the other half of their pair.
The purpose of this exercise is to teach teams to rely on their teammates. Working together to figure out their pair helps individuals achieve a common goal while encouraging them to think creatively when asking and answering questions.
#5. 2 Truths and a Lie
This game gives teammates the opportunity to share some interesting personal details which can help foster collaboration and support. Each player takes a turn and states 2 truths and 1 lie about themselves. Then, the rest of the team must guess which is the lie.
While this activity doesn’t have too many goals attached to it, it helps teammates open up to one another while inspiring individuals to think creatively when making up a lie.
While the above activities are certainly not an exhaustive list of team building exercises, they can help you start to get to know your teammates better and help you be more confident stepping outside of your comfort zone. And even though these goals are team-oriented and fun, they truly are meant to help you develop the necessary skills to succeed as a comedian who can both work with others as well as on their own.
No successful performer was ever created inside of a vacuum. Like any other profession or skillset, comedy requires teamwork and team building. And working together and finding purpose within these fun activities will only make you stronger.
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speakers for hire.