Photos by provided by Nathan Minns
Being an involved™ kid at Ohio State, I went through many team building workshops, leadership seminars, and communication lectures between student organization e-boards and various university jobs. One workshop I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been introduced to is graduating senior Nathan Minn’s improv workshop.
Green Light Improv is a professional facilitation group that works with student orgs and businesses to build trust and communication skills in the workplace through the power of improv.
“Green Light means go, like just jump off,” Minns explained to me when I asked about the name. “And it was also available,” he laughed. “That was important.”
As a marketing major, Minns spent the past three-and-a-half years building business- world skills while he was stacking his performance resume through various theatre department shows and off-campus summer programs. One of his most memorable experiences was attending an improv program in NYC by performer, Armando Diaz.
“Armando is the first person I did improv with,” he told me. “He taught me how to do it step-by-step. Most people give you a word, two chairs on stage, and tell you to go.”
Experiencing improv in a broken down setting gave Minns the tools he needed to apply it incrementally to business models. One of the first things he learned was how to successfully set up the first few lines. Without them, the rest of the scene can fall apart.
“That’s also important in everyday, tough conversations,” Minns explains. “The first line you say is setting the tone.”
Acting, he admits, wasn’t a talent he was just born with. It took a few rejections to make him realize it was something he had to work at if he wanted to be successful.
“I thought, ‘Okay I need to see if this is something worth pursuing post-grad.’ So I went to New York, got training over the summer, I came back, and I got cast in shows and everything,” he recalls. “[It] taught me [performing] was a learnable skill, it’s not something you just have.”
“…I find that improv works because no one can prepare––it’s impossible to be ‘good at’ the first time. It makes people sit back and take all ideas as they come.”Minns on his workshops
When it came to starting Green Light Improv, Minns picked up on the fact that those who were most interested in his performance background were business leaders. His bosses had repeatedly told him he was hired because of his ability to talk and connect with others easily, which came from performance experience.
After meeting a few more-than-qualified performers in the theatre department to add to his team, he started the company to combine passion with profession. And the research proves it—improv helps companies thrive in idea production.
“In some studies, improv doubled the amount of ideas, or the same amount of ideas in half the time. It’s also used for social anxiety—people got more comfortable being in the moment.”
Without trust in an office, Minns says, the company is held back. The worst environments he’s seen involved offices where the boss speaks first, then the rest of the team feels forced to agree.
“Everyone else will jump on that idea and then you’re the only one that’s like, ‘That’s stupid.’ I find that improv works because no one can prepare—it’s impossible to be ‘good at’ the first time. It makes people sit back and take all ideas as they come. Part of the ‘green light thinking’ is that once an idea is on the board, it’s not yours anymore. It’s the team’s. You all came up with it together.”
In order for teams to become more collaborative and productive, the most basic lesson of improv is required: the “yes, and…” rule. If you start a scene with two people sitting at the vet and the first person says, “I sure hope our cat is okay,” the other actor shouldn’t say something like, “What do you mean? We have a dog.” They’re supposed to trust their partner and build on what they said. So something like, “Yes, and I wasn’t expecting her to eat your car keys so quickly!” is more appropriate.
Similarly, in a brainstorming session, suggesting and critiquing one idea at a time is bad for the team. Rather, Minns says, you should put everyone’s ideas up on the board first without judgement.
“Afterwards, you critique all the ideas and break it down to the ones that are important. You use the ‘yes, and—’ thinking. The ‘yes’ is ‘I respect you and I respect that idea’ and the ‘and’ is ‘How do I add to this?’ It doesn’t mean you agree with everything, but it’s important in that process.”
In some environments, you can feel like every underdeveloped word you say is putting your position on the line—a quick suggestion for the next fundraising event, or a comment on a problem that maybe you recognize but don’t know how to solve. In times like these, Minns suggests, it’s important that the team holds realistic expectations for the speaker.
“[After improv,] people tend to feel like they’re able to speak their mind more and not fear that their bad ideas will be reflected on them. It’s like you’re panning for gold, and you don’t expect to just reach in and grab a hunk of gold. You get a ton of water and dirt, and then the water comes out, and you have a little speck. After a day, you might have enough. A lot of times companies expect to just reach in and grab a diamond. I mean, it might happen, and more power to you, but you would probably have a better idea if you panned everything.”
More specifically, improv helps a company in three ways—it provides active listening, entrepreneurial thinking, and teambuilding skills.
How improv provides active listening…
“Everything is designed so that you can’t pre-think what’s gonna happen next. So often we find ourselves in situations where we’re distracted by what we’re going to say next— it’s distracting from fully understanding what the other person is saying. You’re sort of being trained on mindfulness, like how can you be present in the moment at all times.”
How improv provides entrepreneurial thinking…
“In improv, you have a lot of ideas thrown out, and it’s up to the team to decide which one you want to go forward with. The best will naturally rise to the top, because we’ll support each other’s ideas as we go; we’re gonna ‘pivot’ as more ideas come up. If you support mine and I support yours, then together we can choose to pivot and support another. It’s a healthy way to reserve judgement as you go.”
How improv provides team building…
“A big part of the workshop is how they’re designed to encourage you to get you closer to the point where you feel like you’re failing at something, but the stakes are so low that it doesn’t matter. Once people fail together and face that ‘adversity’ of low stakes, they become closer. I would personally rather have a team fail in an improv workshop than on a sales call.” •
To schedule a workshop with Green Light Improv, go to greenlightimprov. com or email nathan@greenlightimprov. com.