Give Your Business An ImprovEdge!

Teamwork in the workplace banner - Karen Hough

Improvisation, or “Improv” is a form of theatre - often comedy - that requires the players in a scene to think fast on their feet, to listen closely to what others say and build on what they heard to keep the conversation going. You may have seen this done or even watched the popular show, Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, but whether you love it or hate it, the principles and techniques behind improv can actually help us all become better listeners, better leaders, and can improve teamwork in the workplace! Karen Hough is the Founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, a company offering virtual and in-person business training, rooted in the practice of Improv. Here, she explains:

  • How the traits of a good improv actor mirror the traits of a good leader
  • The importance of adaptability and flexibility in business
  • How humor and business mix; and
  • The Four Principles of Improv and how they can apply to the workplace!

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A Background In Improv & Acting

  • Ms. Hough claims improv’s “in-the-moment creativity” and the ability not only to be a performer but to script and produce as well is what got her into improvisation. 
  • Her improv career began at Yale, where she met some fellow theatre fanatics and formed The Purple Crayon, the first Ivy League improv group. 
    • This was followed by the group forming the Ivy league Improv Consortium which helped groups of students at other schools in the Ivy league form their own improv groups. 
  • In Chicago, she worked with Second City and  The Annoyance Theatre, along with performing in films, television and radio throughout her acting career.
  • She credits improv for changing the way she thinks, works and interacts with others. 


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Career Change

  • After moving to New York, with her acting career in full swing, she was offered an opportunity to become a sales executive for a technology startup. 
  • As she got started in this new role and new industry, she found that her ability to think on her feet and make quick decisions was generating professional success, even outside of the acting realm. 
  • Ms. Hough credits her time in improv for being able to be so creative and innovative even in this unfamiliar territory.

Improv Impacting Teamwork In The Workplace

  • The traits of a good improv actor can directly impact the workplace.
    • Improv actors must be:
      • Highly positive in the face of adversity;
      • Highly adaptable and flexible; and
      • Be collaborative in a way that allows you to build on what is in front of you.
    • All of these traits are applicable to leaders and teams, helping to generate higher rates of teamwork in the workplace, and are especially valuable during the changing COVID landscape.

Improv Works For All

  • Improv skills can help at every level of a business -- from frontline employees all the way up to the executive suite. 
    • A key element, across the board, is confidence: How are you showing up for work? How are you perceived by your peers? What word choices do you use when speaking with others inside and outside of the company?
  • When it comes to leaders, they often don’t realize that even the smallest actions they take or things they say can affect the entire workforce.
    • How are leaders handling difficult situations?
    • How are leaders managing expectations?
    • Are leaders coming in with an improvisational mindset?

Adaptability & Flexibility in Business

  • Teaching workforces the skills and traits needed to be successful on the improv ;stage gives them a “toolkit” they can use to be adaptable and flexible when any difficult situation arises.
  • Adaptability is at heart a way of managing the moment.
  • “Oops to Eureka!” is one useful improv technique
    • Many great successes in history have been born from mistakes;
    • The courage to acknowledge that a mistake exists and needs to be addressed to move forward is imperative
    • How someone chooses to respond to mistakes is a precursor to future success or failure.
  • When using adaptability improv techniques, teams must think in ways that push the company forward and promote teamwork in the workplace.

How Humor And Business Mix

  • Humor is a staple of improv acting, and it should be a staple in our business interactions.
  • Humor is a deeply needed human instinct and it actually relaxes the mind and body while simultaneously allowing people to be more creative. 
    • People who are relaxed and humorous are able to think of better ideas, be more collaborative and creative, and overall improve teamwork in the workplace. 
  • Teams should be able to take themselves less seriously even in tense situations. 
  • Keeping the energy light at work is very important. 

On Becoming More Open and Positive

  • Vulnerability and honesty are two more key traits of a great improv actor and they can also be great traits of leaders as well.
  • Leaders should be more clear and honest with their teams.
  • Leaders and companies who are able to lay out what tools are available and ready to be utilized to bring success to the team from the start will find the most success when managing a crisis.

The Four Principles of Improv

  • The four principles of improv are:
    • Yes Space & Building Blocks (The first two principles go hand-in-hand)
      • This concept focuses on being agreeable and collaborative.
        • In improv, if your partner makes a statement, you reply with “Yes, and” - that is, accepting and building on their idea, rather than blocking them. This concept promotes teamwork in the workplace and positive idea generation.
        • Leadership should be able to convey that they are interested in others’ ideas and that “yes” they do want to hear more about employee thoughts on a subject.
    • Team Equity
      • This is the understanding that the team cannot accomplish anything as individuals. It takes the entire group.
        • Great improv troops are highly diverse, that is what makes the shows so entertaining and collaborative. This should apply in the workplace as well.
    • Oops to Eureka!
      • Teams have to be able to roll with the unexpected and make the most out of difficult situations.

Give Your Business An ImprovEdge!

  • ImprovEdge offers training to businesses and their teams on the topics of leadership development, managing difficult conversations, culture transformation, diversity, equity, inclusion, and more.
  • Currently a program called “The Future of Work” is being developed that focuses on how teams can face the future from the perspective of “How do we move forward and know what to expect after the past year?”
    • Learning what to expect moving forward on the aspects of remote work, hybrid work and learning, connections between teams virtually, and of course leadership and the management of employees and teamwork in the workplace virtually. 
  • Communication and interactions between employees is a centerpiece of many of ImprovEdge’s training programs. 
  • ImprovEdge approaches the behavioral problems that clients are facing and they help those clients to become more flexible, adaptable, and effective. 
  • Prior to the pandemic, 95% of ImprovEdge’s training was in person. Now, they are 100% virtual and are able to offer the same effective training virtually. They plan on continuing these virtual programs into the future.

Ms. Hough’s Books

Karen Hough Background

  • BA in Humanities with a distinction in Theatre from Yale University
  • Ms. Hough previously served as a Senior Sales Executive for ThruPoint Network Solutions.
  • She was on the Board of Directors for Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) along with the Key4Women National Advisory Board for KeyBank.
  • Currently Ms. Hough is a nationally-recognized Certified Speaking Professional, a #1 best-selling author, and the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge


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