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22 great improv games for better collaboration (and fun!)

When it comes to collaboration, there’s a lot we can learn from the world of improv comedy and drama. Working closely with others to create a scene, think creatively, and build something from nothing while also having fun: these are all great skills we should try and develop with the use of improv games!

Whether you’re looking to improve team collaboration, energize a group or just build your improv skills, the techniques in this post will give you the tools to run great improv sessions. We’ll also explore some of the core rules of improv you can use to enjoy and benefit from all that these games and activities have to offer. 

Learning to be spontaneous and have fun as a team has benefits beyond any individual workshop or meeting. We recommend giving these improv activities a try the next time you bring your group together and incorporate them into your regular team-building sessions!

Bringing play into the workplace can do wonders for burnout, happiness, and fatigue, and improv is one of the best and easiest ways to encourage play. 

Let’s dig in! 

What is an improv game?

Improv games are activities designed around participants acting or role-playing a scene spontaneously and without a script. Improv has its roots in schools of acting and comedy, and has often been used to warm-up actors and to build collaborative skills.

Improv games encourage creativity, quick thinking, and communication skills and are a great tool for breaking the ice, having fun, and building team spirit. They are great at breaking down barriers to collaboration and getting groups prepared for more involved tasks and processes. As facilitators and team leaders, this is something we can and should bring to our meetings and workshops!

Typical improv exercises include giving participants prompts or rules for acting out a scene or interacting with one another while encouraging everyone to think on their feet and adapt.

If you’ve ever seen the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway, you’ve seen a host of comedians improvise – some more successfully than others! The sense of energy, fun, and collaboration is part of all great improv games and you can tap into this when running these exercises with a group. 

Why use improv games in the workplace?

Using games and activities to energize and engage your team is a great way to make meetings more successful and have fun as a group. Improv games that tap into roleplay, storytelling, and drama techniques can be especially effective in this respect. Often because it’s not the kind of thing you expect!

Introducing a fresh element to your meeting and workshop and bringing people out of their comfort zones can see results beyond the laughter they generate. Meetings and workshops that have grown stale often don’t see great results. Improv is a breath of fresh air that challenges your group, encourages play, and helps create bonds.

When used to break the ice or energize a team, improv games often see high engagement and lots of laughs: a great foundation for further discussion or as a preamble to other tasks.

Improvisation activities are also effective at teaching creativity, collaborative practices, and quick thinking. Improvisation is a skill that many of us use in our day-to-day roles without realizing it.

When working with customers, running workshops, or figuring out complex problems, many of us have to improvise and think on the spot. Developing this skill in a fun game can help your group be more resilient to the unexpected in the future too! 

One word of advice. Improvisation and role play don’t come naturally to everyone. It can be uncomfortable for some people and so it’s vital to balance having fun with creating a safe space for people to participate. Be sure to think carefully about the group you’re working with and perhaps start with a simple game that doesn’t ask them to step completely out of their comfort zone too soon!

Simple conversation games are often much easier to encourage than acting games where people must use physical actions and interact with each other in front of others. Think of your audience and tailor your activity accordingly. The best activities should excite and engage, not terrify or alienate!  

Improv games and techniques

Bringing improv to your group, whether it’s just for fun or as part of a team-building session starts with finding the right games and exercises. 

We’ve organized some of our favorite and most effective improv activities into sections to make it easier to find what will work for you! Beginner games are great for groups new to the practice or if you want a simple and easy activity. Want to break the ice and help groups get to know one another? We have games for that too! 

You’ll also find tips for running each activity with a link to the method in the SessionLab library, making it simple to add an exercise to your workshop or meeting agenda. Let’s get started!

Improv games for beginners

While playing improv games can be a lot of fun, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Start with these simple improv activities to warm up a new group or gently introduce concepts of roleplay, spontaneity, and creativity to the room. 

Remember – simplicity is key when it comes to energizers and icebreakers and the same is true when finding engaging improv activities! These improv games are easy to teach and are a great place to start. Let’s take a look. 

Questions Only

Conversational improv games are great places to begin when introducing people to the concept of improv. They’re effective at gently bringing people out of their shells without indulging in some of the wilder, more dramatic possibilities of improv. 

Simple enough to work in either virtual or physical settings, Questions Only is a twist on a classic improv game that we’d recommend the next time you’re stuck for a quick energizer. Players must conduct a conversation composed only of questions. For example, if I was to ask you “What is the weather like on Mars?” you might answer, “Where did I leave my space umbrella?” Hesitate or answer with something other than a question? You’re out!

We like using a round-robin variant where the last person playing gets to choose a topic – the resulting conversations tend to generate a lot of laughter and energy!

Questions Only #improv game #energiser #fun #icebreaker #remote-friendly 

A classic improv game designed to encourage creative thinking, develop improvisation skills, and energize a group – great to break the ice and generate laughter with minimal set-up!

Sound Ball

Great improv helps tap into the collective imagination of a group. Asking a group to pretend, play and be silly by channeling the energy of mime is a great way to awaken them to the possibilities of improv. 

In Sound Ball, start by asking participants to stand in a circle and get ready to catch an imaginary ball. In order to throw and catch the ball, players must also make a special sound. Start throwing imaginary balls around before introducing new balls with new sounds to really keep players on their toes!

This game is great for introducing fun into a room but it also encourages people to really pay attention. Use at the start of a meeting or before an involved part of a workshop when energy is low for best results!  

Sound Ball #energiser #ice breaker #thiagi #team #outdoor 

This a simple icebreaker activity energising participants, also suitable for debriefing learning points towards spontaneity and teamwork. The activity involves participants standing in a circle and throwing imaginary ball(s) to each other in increasing pace.

Non-Verbal improv 

Acting out previously unseen prompts on the spot is an improv standard. Asking players to creatively respond with little preparation and communicate effectively is a great way to energize the room while also building some core communication skills. But what if you had to communicate without speaking? 

In this improv exercise, participants receive a random phrase and must act it out to their partner non-verbally. Encourage players to pay close attention to their partners and be creative in trying to get across their ideas. Use gestures, overacting, and even props to get across your phrase! Break into teams for a competitive version or use round-robin for an improv game that works for large groups.

Non-verbal improv #improv game #energiser #fun #remote-friendly 

An improv game where participants must use non-verbal communication and actions to communicate a phrase or an idea to other players. A fun game that’s a great way to open a discussion on better communication!

Terrible Presents

We’ve all given and received gifts at some stage though not everyone has likely been great! (We’re looking at you, gaudy Christmas jumper!) Tap into this shared experience with Terrible Presents, a persuasive improv game where players must convince one another to accept a rubbish present!

Between rounds, invite participants to share the story of their terrible presents with others. Reflecting on the experience of persuasion, improvisation and acceptance often leads to fun and interesting conversations. If running online, consider adding time to make terrible digital drawings to help sell the bad present! 

Terrible Presents #team #skills #remote-friendly #issue analysis 

A persuasive activity where participants “give” each other terrible presents.

Yes, and Picnic

One of the foundational concepts of improvised comedy is Yes, and… This means that when improvising, participants should respond to others by accepting what they’ve said and then building upon it. Not only does this concept make for better improv, but it’s a great way to approach collaborating with others in any setting.

Yes, and Picnic introduces the concept in a simple game where pairs plan an event together using responses ranging from “No” through to “Yes, and what I like about that is.” By understanding how different responses influence a conversation, this improv game is instructive as well as fun! Consider using this one as the starting point for more involved improv to follow.

Yes, and Picnic #improv game #yes, and #active listening #accepting offers #flexibility #specifics #em 

4 conversations about how to listen, acknowledge, and build

Hello Kitty

Energizers and activities that use improvisation come in many shapes and sizes but almost always contain one unifying element: fun! When first introducing improv to a group, simple games that center on having fun and eliciting laughter can really show the value of the process and encourage engagement. 

Hello Kitty is a short game that simply asks the group to try and make one another smile. Start by separating the group into puppies and kittens. Puppies must say hello in a way that makes kittens laugh or smile while kittens must try and keep a straight face. When a kitten laughs or smiles, they become a puppy! Keep going until all of the kittens have laughed and joined the puppy team.

Though this game is simple, it’s a great way to encourage the creativity that’s important to improv and it goes a long way to energizing your team too! 

Hello Kitty #hyperisland #energiser #remote-friendly 

A simple and short group game all about trying to make each other crack a smile. Participants take turns being ‘kitties’ and ‘puppies’. The puppies try to make the kitties crack a smile or laugh. The last kitty standing is the winner! An original from The Northern Quarter Agency.

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Improv games for getting to know each other

Improv activities can be especially effective for helping break the ice and for encouraging groups to get to know each other better. Bringing a fun, random element into the process can help facilitate conversation, kickstart connections and help people feel less pressured to share something personal if they don’t want to. Playing a fun game is also less intimidating than being asked to speak formally in front of a group of new people!

Everyone is a Liar

Two truths and a lie is a classic game that asks participants to improvise an untrue fact about themselves and present it alongside two truths. It’s simple to teach, easy to play, and is a great way for people to get to know each other.

This variation asks participants to ask lie detector questions after one player has made their three statements in order to figure out which one is a lie. By having to answer these questions and try to convince people that a false statement is true, you can really tap into the improv spirit in a gentle but fun way!

Be sure to have people introduce themselves by name and debrief on what was truthful after each round. This moment of reflection and connection is a key part of getting to know each other! 

Everyone is a Liar (Two truths and one lie) #warm up #ice breaker #remote-friendly #online 

Starting a meeting or after a break in a group where participants don’t know each other or don’t know much about each other

Remember the time

With those people we know best, we tend to have shared stories and memories we’ve built together. Looking back on these experiences fondly often brings a smile to our faces and further solidifies group bonds. This improv game taps into this idea by asking the group to ‘remember’ a fictional event they attended together and create a story of what happened.

Start by introducing a fictional memory the group would have experienced together. For example, “Do you remember the time we went to that music festival in Sweden?” Go around the group and invite a person to add a detail or nuance to the memory and build a story of what you all did together.

By encouraging everyone to contribute and co-create the memory, you can get to know one another creatively. Invite players to throw in fun details and to take left turns – bringing your personality to the shared memory will help it be realized and unique to your group. 

"Remember the time…" #zoom #virtual #yes, and #remote-friendly 

Participants tell a story of a shared (fictional) memory, adding details one at a time to create a cohesive picture and narrative. 

Magic box

For those who are less comfortable with improvisation or sharing themselves with the group, the use of objects and metaphors can be helpful. Remember that all groups are different. Giving everyone space to contribute in a way that feels good for them is important when helping a team get to know one another.  

In this activity, prepare a box of strange and varied objects. (If working online, a set of virtual objects or images works great too!) Invite participants to select an object without thinking too much and then share something about themselves that relates to the object. Go further and encourage improvisation by asking them to connect the object with the theme of the workshop or a central question.

Improvising an answer with a previously unseen prop is a great way to get people thinking quickly and creatively, and it can also invite some interesting and unexpected responses!

Magic Box #team #ice breaker #get-to-know #teambuilding #remote-friendly 

Ice breaking at the beginning of the workshop/meeting

True of Me / Spotlight

Getting to know other people often means creating space to share things from our lives. Asking people what they do or where they live might work in some situations, but gosh it can be boring when doing so online with large groups. Can’t we do better? 

In this virtual friendly game, participants are asked to cover or turn off their cameras. Start by making a random, fun statement that is true of you – everyone that this statement is also true for can then uncover their cameras. Pick someone who revealed themselves and invite them to improvise a new true statement. 

Often, when we introduce ourselves to a group, we repeat the same old lines. While simple, this exercise can yield great results because it invites people to share things off the cuff and be fresh and creative with their truths. 

True of Me / Spotlight #improv game #remote-friendly #ice breaker #zoom 

In gallery view we say something that is true of you (e.g. I have a dog). Everyone that this is true for keeps their camera on; everyone that this is not true for covers their camera. Repeat with a new true statement from someone else in the group.

Hypeman

Introducing friends and colleagues to others means having to get to know them a little better. Introducing friends and colleagues in an exaggerated manner means getting to know them and then running with what you know. Tap into this idea with this fun improv exercise that taps into roleplay for funny results!

Start by creating groups of three and asking these groups to share some basic information about one another. Player 1 from each group will be the person being introduced. Player 2 will be the Straightman and Player 3 will be the Hypeman.

Next, ask two groups of three to come together. Player 1 from each group will be introduced by the other two from their group.  Player 2 must introduce them using an understated, matter of fact style. Player 3 will introduce using exaggerated, over the top language.

For example, the Straightman might introduce me as “This is James. He does marketing for SessionLab and facilitates too.” While the Hyperman might introduce me by saying, “You haven’t met James? Oh you HAVE to meet James. James does marketing the way other people do breathing! And he facilitates too – there’s nothing this guy can’t do!”

Mix groups up so everyone has a turn playing all of the roles. By taking turns building up our partners and coming up with exaggerated, sometimes outlandish claims, you can take the sting out of meeting new people and have some fun improvising too!

Hypeman #energizer #support #trust #positivity #name game #introductions #mixer #improv game #character #relationship #em #opening 

In small groups one person is introduced and their hypeman hypes them up

Physical improv games

Improv techniques often draw from the world of acting, asking participants to use their whole bodies to get into the scene or participate in the game. 

Physical improv games like those below are especially great for getting people moving and adding new energy into the room. If a group has been having long and difficult conversations all morning, using an activity that gets them using their bodies can be just what they need to feel energized and engaged. 

These games are even useful for those attending virtual meetings and workshops. Asking people to move around and have fun on camera can be an effective way to combat zoom fatigue! 

What are you doing?

Interpreting actions is a great way to encourage creative thinking and energize a team. In this improv game, one player starts by imagining an action on the spot and physically miming that action. 

For example, they might start by miming washing, drying, and brushing their hair. Next, another player jumps in and asks them what they are doing. The person miming must then say any other action than the one they are performing. Rather than say they are brushing their hair, they might say they are performing brain surgery or playing hockey. The next player must then begin miming out that action. Encourage everyone to be creative with their actions and responses and keep the game moving! 

By improvising physically and providing the next player with a prompt, this exercise is a great way to encourage activity and conversation in those groups that might be more reserved to start!   

What are you doing? #hyperisland #energiser #remote-friendly 

This is a simple drama game in which participants take turns asking each other “What are you doing?” and acting out the various responses. Though simple, it engages the imagination and gently challenges participants out of their comfort zone by having them mime a range of different actions.

Human Objects

When a group comes together in a creative setting, it’s always fascinating and encouraging to see the range of responses. Seeing the differences and similarities in our approaches can really help us bond as people.

In Human Objects, challenge your group to impersonate an object with their body in just ten seconds. Start by calling out the name of a common object like a desk, mobile phone, microwave oven, or drum kit. Have everyone improvise and impersonate that object using just their bodies and then nominate another play to choose the next object. 

Human Objects invites some fun, creative thinking into your meeting and it works great in both live and virtual settings. Trying to fit a human guitar into the frame of a Zoom window often gets people laughing! 

Human objects #improv game #energizer #remote-friendly #fun #icebreaker 

A quick, physical improv game that asks participants to embody an object as quickly as they can!

Mirrors

Like most collaborative and creative processes, understanding and listening to your partner is key to your success. Mirrors is a classic physical improv game that encourages deep connection and attention using our bodies.

Start by asking pairs to imagine themselves as standing on two sides of a mirror with a boundary line between them. Next, have player 1 start leading with physical movements, gestures, and actions that player 2 must then mirror. Encourage players to go slowly and not to talk. Switch which player is following regularly and invite everyone to get creative while leading the way for their partner. 

When looking for an improv game that gets people moving, Mirrors does small wonders. It’s a simple premise that invites players to push further out of their comfort zones as they go. Bonus points for creating memorable team moments and opportunities for hilarity! 

Mirrors #improv game #flexibility #active listening #listening and awareness #speaking #accepting offers #trust #leadership #em #fb 

In pairs, players mirror one another’s movements.  

Human Machine

Physical improv games that ask us to use our bodies and get involved can be great team activities. Working together while having fun taps into what many of us love about team sports, creative collaborations, and what it means to be a part of a group!

This improv exercise asks that a group come together to embody a robot, with every player on the team playing a single part of the machine.

Start by having a single-player enter the center of the room making the sound and movement of a part of the robot. After five seconds, have another player jump in and add themselves as another part of the robot, complete with a new sound and movement. Keep building until you’ve formed a whole machine that moves and operates together. 

Want to add another angle? Invite the robot to perform a task or deconstruct the robot piece by piece. We love inviting the group to create a robot designed for a specific task and see how people choose to bring themselves to the process and position themselves as part of the group. 

Human Machine #hyperisland #energiser 

This fast and physical group gets participants moving and working together in a way that generates energy and promotes collaboration. One at a time, members of the group become parts of the “machine”, each one making a distinct physical motion and a sound, until the whole group is working together in motion, as one human machine.

Near and Far

At their core, most improv activities are a set of rules that participants must work with creatively in order to achieve their goal. Having to work with these rules on the spot means participants have to interpret and respond quickly and creatively. As such, the results can often be surprising, even with the simplest of rulesets! 

Near and Far is an exercise that draws on these concepts without the usual setup of other improv games. Start by asking everyone in the room to secretly choose one person in the group to stay close to and a second person they must stay away from. Next, gather everyone into a close huddle, explain the rules for safety and not speaking, and then send them off to find the person they need to be close to and far away from. 

Let them wander and enact these rules while inviting them to observe all the strange systems and actions that emerge from working together in this space.

Remember that you need plenty of space for this activity to work, but it’s so worth it! In a very short period of time, you and your group have lots to reflect on and have improvised and engaged with one another creatively too! 

Near and Far #ice breaker #energiser #action #thiagi #outdoor #warm up 

Near and Far is a wonderful warm up game that provides excellent avenues to build connections and to discuss various issues of corporate culture and dynamics. I have used it in conferences and it is suitable for small, medium, and large groups.

Red Ball

Mime and comedy go hand in hand. In this improv game, the group is asked to imagine passing several items around the group and responding to them in turn. It’s a fun way of letting everyone’s personality shine while engaging in a light, energetic way.

Start with everyone in a circle. Have the director begin by showing the group an imaginary red ball. They then make eye contact with someone else in the circle, say “Red ball” and then pass it to them. The receiving player repeats the name of the item they’ve received and then passes it to another player. After a few passes, the director then adds more and more items including a sleeping baby, an angry cat, the keys to a sports car, and more. 

Ask players to be imaginative and creative in how they pass these objects around while observing the rules of the game. It’s fun to see people try and calm the sleeping baby and protect it from the other objects being thrown around and see all the other interactions people come up with!  

Red Ball #listening and awareness #improv game #active listening #em 

Pass around imaginary balls & other objects

Storytelling improv games 

When it comes to being creative and engaging with others, our storytelling instincts are a great place to play inside. Stories resonate with people across cultures and demographics – inviting people to improvise in this space is effective for building group bonds, having fun, and improving teamwork. 

In the fields of drama and comedy, narrative improv is a common technique that encourages participants to work together to create a complete story from scratch! Story-making with others can be a fun and engaging collaborative process and narrative thinking can have massive benefits across your organization. In these narrative improv games, we’ll explore how telling stories can excite and inspire a group to play and collaborate. 

Fortunate Me

For some groups, telling stories brings to mind dragons and spaceships and this can prove a barrier to engagement. This variation on a classic story game keeps things grounded and practical while still encouraging improvisation and creativity. 

Start by having a player state a goal they want to achieve a year from now. The next player says, “Unfortunately…” and improvises an obstacle that might get in the way of achieving that goal. The first player then responds by saying “Yes and…” and improvising a way they overcame that obstacle. Continue around the circle so that the player can refute and overcome all possible obstacles that would come between them and their goal, however wild or difficult. 

By connecting to the story being told personally and overcoming challenges with positivity, you can generate both practical and fun takeaways for the group. Be sure to invite creative obstacles and don’t be afraid to throw in some curveballs. What’s a good story without a few surprises? 

Fortunate Me (variation of Fortunately/Unfortunately) #improv game #coaching #creative thinking #accepting offers #justification #yes, and #risk taking #boldness #improv #vision #storymaking #remote-friendly #zoom 

One person shares a goal, other players offer obstacles. Main player delightfully overcomes those obstacles.

Powerpoint Karaoke – holiday variation

When we bring up the idea of telling stories, some members of the group can bristle: not everyone thinks of themselves as a storyteller! The reality is that everyone tells stories. For those people, ask them about the last time they went on holiday or a fun trip and chances are they’ll tell you when it happened, where they went, who was there and what happened. That’s a story! 

In this storytelling game, we’ll recreate the way we retell a holiday or unexpected event but add elements of improv. Start by creating a slide deck of holiday locations, inside jokes, and activities using the Powerpoint Karaoke framework.

Next, invite a participant to start a sentence that begins with “Let me tell you a story. I went on a crazy trip to…” and then show the first slide of a location. The player must then improvise a story about when they went on a trip to this place. 

After a sentence or two, move to the next slide – the player must incorporate what is on that slide into their story. Add slides and details for a minute or until the story comes to a natural stop. 

When playing with a team that knows each other well, it’s fun to add images of inside jokes and company references to the slide deck. Explaining why you ran into the CEO while on your trip to the grand canyon or why a samurai showed up at the company all-hands can be great fun! 

Powerpoint Karaoke #improv game #communication #presentation skills #skills #remote-friendly 

Powerpoint Karaoke is an improv game where volunteers take turns presenting slide decks that they’ve never seen before, in front of a live audience.

Story Spine

One of the reasons that so many of us can connect to stories and understand them is because they often follow a recognizable structure. Working within a story structure is a great way of making it easy for people to contribute while also building out an engaging story with all the right beats!

Start by explaining the concept of the story spine and how it relates to popular stories and fairytales. Next, read out the first prompt of “Once upon a time” and invite a player to contribute the first line. Read out the next prompt of “Every day…” and invite another player to contribute the next line. 

Be sure to take notes of each response and keep building the story until you reach the last prompt. Read back the full story with the group and share what you’ve built together! You can create more specific stories by using a first-line relating to your company or a chosen theme, or simply use it as a creative and fun improv exercise!

Story Spine #public speaking #speaking #storytelling #em 

create a story using Kenn Adams Story Spine

Once upon a time…
Every day…
Until one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since then…

One Word Method

Like most creative processes, stories are built step by step. But how can you do this effectively if every step is handled by a different person? In this improv game, challenge players to create a sentence one word at a time, with a different person contributing each word. 

Start with a general topic such as deciding what to have for dinner or what to do about a specific problem or situation. Invite someone to contribute the first word of the sentence and have the next person contribute the next word. Go around the group until everyone has contributed and you have a complete sentence. Start over with a fresh situation or a continuation of the existing one.

Be sure to gently guide the team and encourage everyone to stay on topic – the best sentences and stories are those that make sense! 

Want to up the stakes? Challenge players to create better, more complete, and articulate sentences under time pressure or with other restrictions in place. Being creative and spontaneous in a relaxed setting that doesn’t ask too much from an individual player is a great way to start doing improv and show the benefits of collaboration. 

One Word Method #product development #idea generation #creativity #ice breaker #online #warm up 

Creating a sentence relating to a specific topic or problem with each person contributing one word at a time.

Whose adjective is it anyway?

Stories come in all shapes and sizes. Not every story needs to be epic, and by encouraging the group to tell stories in small interactions, you can encourage creativity and help build communication skills too.

Start by creating a set of notecards with adjectives such as hungry, angry, sad, etc. on them. In pairs, participants pick up a card, go to the front of the room and act out a scene while trying to demonstrate their adjective card. For example, a pair will act out a scene of two friends meeting for lunch while bringing their adjective card into their performance. 

At the end of the skit, the audience and each person must guess what the others’ adjectives were. Reflect on how to better display and read others’ emotions while rewarding particularly creative responses. You’ll be surprised at how this game encourages deep reflection alongside laughter! 

Whose adjective is it anyway? #teampedia #team #action #improv game #emotional intelligence 

The objectives are to build group member relationships through verbal and nonverbal cue-sensing and effective adaptation to others’ displayed emotions through entertaining and nonthreatening skits.

What are the rules of improv?

When you watch an improv comedy scene in full swing, it can seem like chaos. On the contrary, there are often rules and guidelines operating to help the group collaboratively improvise and support each other in the process. 

Improv rules are designed to enable everyone to participate, have fun and create better scenes and outcomes. Great takeaways for any team wanting to use improv games or collaborate more effectively! They are not designed to restrict creativity or insist there is a right or wrong way to do improv.

Think of them as guidance for helping a group make the most of the session. They are particularly useful for those just starting out! 

If you were to look for what the rules of improv are, you would find dozens of different takes and variations. Tina Fey’s improv rules were a particular inspiration to us at SessionLab! Here, we’ve provided our opinion and synthesis of many of the common core rules. 

Our advice would be to explore what’s out there, try bringing the concepts into your practice, and use what works for you. Combine rules, alter them to your needs, or make entirely new ones. Remember that whatever you use, the purpose remains the same: guidelines you can use to create a safe, creative space to improvise, collaborate and have fun with others.  

Agree and commit 

One of the core rules for improv is to agree to what your partner says and not to block the scene from progressing. If your partner begins an improv game by saying, “This birthday party is great – shame that the cake is still baking!” you should agree that the situation is true and commit to this truth. If you were to respond by saying you’re not actually at a birthday party and that there isn’t a cake, you’ve disagreed with the premise and blocked both your partner and the flow of the scene. The scene will fall flat as a result! 

Improvisation is the art of creating something spontaneously together. Remember that blocking or disagreeing damages this process and doesn’t help create a safe, supportive environment. Try to agree with what your partner brings to the process and trust that your partner will do the same with you. Improv is about creation, not destruction!  

Say Yes and… to build and expand 

Yes and… is a concept that isn’t unique to improv, but nonetheless improves the experience for everyone involved. The basic idea is that after first agreeing with what your partner says, you then build on the idea and add something new. For example, if your partner was to say, “Oh gosh, there is an angry Viking coming towards us!” you might respond, “Yes, and they’ve brought their pet dragon with them!”

The idea is not to block and to co-create a scene with others in a fun, collaborative fashion. It feels good to have your ideas accepted and built on! The value of yes and… includes helping everyone have their ideas heard and used, and helping everyone in the group see the benefits of building on the ideas of others, rather than simply championing their own. As far as collaboration principles go, Yes and… is one of the simplest and most effective.

There are no mistakes

Fear of failure can be paralyzing. Whether it’s speaking out in a meeting or participating in an improv exercise, our anxiety about failing in front of others can prevent us from participating. One of the golden rules of improv is that there are no mistakes. If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s okay! If you mishear something and take the conversation in another direction, that’s okay too! In short, don’t worry – whatever you do during an improv session is welcome and no one will punish you for it. 

Being free to mess up and experiment without fear is a massive part of playing improv games and if you can bring this attitude to how you experiment and ideate at work, it can help you there too! While it’s true that mistakes can happen in a work environment, the key here is to stop worrying about making mistakes so much that you don’t take any action at all. As Ed Catmull writes in Creativity Inc: “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

Play

At its heart, most improv is about getting out of your comfort zone and having fun as a group. Being willing to be lighthearted and think of the scene as a collaborative game you are playing together can make all the difference! 

As mentioned in the introduction, play can be instrumental when it comes to learning new tasks, feeling connected, and being productive. When it comes to engaging in improv activities, consider how play might bring something to the equation and how you might be more playful in your interactions!  

Remember that improv is not about winning or taking it so seriously you can’t let yourself go. It’s about letting out your inner child, committing to playing within the concept, and remembering that it’s just a game. Have fun! What do you have to lose? 

Be specific

Most improv games involve creating a scene or conversation from thin air. One great technique you can borrow from storytelling is using specific details and actions to bring a scene to life.

For example, “I live in a house,” is very general while, “I live in a terraced house with a blue door and bats in the attic.” is specific. “I like drinking soda,” is general, while “I like drinking fizzy cola” is more specific. “That man is angry” is general while “The old butcher is angry” is more specific. In each case, consider how giving more concrete details with specificity helps create a more definite mental image of what is going on. 

Specificity helps bring an idea to life and paint a more compelling and realized story. By trying to be more specific, you can also give your partners more to work with. This is not to say that you should be very specific all the time. As you grow in your improv practice, you’ll get a sense of when it’s good to leave things open to the imagination and when it’s good to be specific. 

Finding ways to give enough detail and be specific is a skill worth cultivating outside of improv too. Minimize the potential for misunderstanding and communicate with clarity by being more specific and giving sufficient detail.    

Actively listen to your partner

As with all collaborative games, good improv relies on people being team players. When it comes to creating a scene together, it’s important to listen to your partner carefully and try to understand their intentions. Without listening to each other, the scene will likely fall flat and you’ll end up in a dead-end.

Remember that any collaborative process is made better when working together. Fail to listen and try to go your own way and no one will end up having a good time! 

Truly listening to one another also means paying attention to where they’re coming from and where they’re going. Something magic happens when a group of people are all actively listening to each other and building a scene as a team: active listening plays a major part in this!

You don’t always have to be funny

One of the goals of improvisational comedy is to make people laugh. But that doesn’t mean everything you say has to be funny. Setting up your partner, laying the basis for future jokes, or simply keeping things going can make all the difference to a great scene. 

When playing improv games, the temptation can be to try and be funny at every moment. But remember that variations in tone, use of counterpoint, and set-up are all important aspects of any scene, improvised or not. It’s a collaborative medium and remember that the goal is for the scene to be funny and for everyone to have fun, not just for you to be the star! 

Try to tell a story

Human beings are narrative animals. We respond strongly to stories as a species, whether we’re reading, writing or creating them. Bringing aspects of story and narrative into your improv scenes can really bring them to life and encourage contribute too. 

Having the loose structure of a beginning, middle, and end in mind can ensure you hit key narrative beats. It also helps create an understandable flow that makes it easy for both contributors and the audience to buy into. Think of using classic storytelling devices such as good guys and bad guys, the quest, the magical item, character motivations, and conflict to underpin your improv. Want some more concrete examples and frameworks? Try our storytelling improv games section below! 

More statements, less questions 

Improv often shines when the group gets into a flow and everyone can build on what the other participants have brought to the game. That flow state can be difficult to enter and maintain, but there are ways to keep the momentum going. 

Making declarative statements that add something for others to use are a great place to start. If your partner started a scene with “Oh no, the spaceship is being drawn into the black hole!” you might respond with a statement such as, “Yes, and the ship is out of infinity fuel, we’re doomed!” 

This statement adds new information to the mix and you’ve helped flesh out the scene, giving your partner something to build on. Think of improv as trying to collaboratively build a tower. If you add new ideas to the mix, you are helping the tower grow taller and are sharing the load of doing so with your partner.

Using questions can be tricky in some improv games. Open questions often don’t add anything to the scene and can put pressure on the respondent to carry the weight of the scene. For example, if your partner started a scene by saying, “Oh no, the spaceship is being drawn into the black hole!”  and you responded, “What else?” that’s an example of using questions badly. 

You haven’t really contributed or added anything into the mix and you’ve put the onus back on your partner. If you were to instead ask, “Why are the escape pods disabled?” that’s an example of using a question to add something to the scene too. 

While questions can be used effectively, always try to consider what you can say or do to add something to the scene. Remember, improv is a collaboration and you should do your part! 

Give and take 

We can’t always be the star of the show. Giving and taking in equal measure means helping move the scene forward, being attentive to what your partner is thinking, and putting the group and the scene ahead of your own glory. 

In practice, this might mean accepting that your improv character has to be spectacularly killed off or setting up another participant rather than taking the spotlight yourself. 

Remember that improv isn’t about you winning as a single person, but about helping the group have fun and win together. In fact, you’ll find that by setting up others and supporting their ideas you’ll receive similar goodwill and help in kind. This is a good lesson for any collaborative process – be prepared to carry your end and to give and share as much as you receive. It’s better for everyone! 

Over to you

Learning to have fun as a group and think on your feet can have a massive impact on how your team collaborates. Using improv games can be a great way to break down barriers, energize participants and have fun! 

We love using improvisation techniques to bring our team together and we hope that by considering the improv rules and games above, you can use them with your group too! 

Have a favorite activity or have something you’d like to add to the mix? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below! 

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