Happy Is As Happy Does!

Five Ways To Keep Your Teams On Side and Reaching Upward — Together

Is your workplace high pressure? Is the emphasis on winning rather than uniting? Many companies are tough environments where competitive behaviour is rife. Old-school business ethics dictate that we work harder when we’re in a negatively challenging, comparative work culture. However, studies show that this behaviour actually makes a team less productive and hardworking than previously believed. Obstructive or aggressive hierarchies and manipulative status play actually impact negatively on staff, making them perform below par.


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Happily, evidence is on hand to prove that a productive workplace is a happy one. Research out of University of Warwick, UK, published in 2015 by Oswald, Proto and Sgroi (http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/63228/), shows that happier workers have a 12 per cent higher rate of productivity. It’s great news for companies that want to justify their good treatment of staff and it certainly bodes well for physical and mental workplace health support in the future.

So, if you’ve found that your team has reached a sticking point, there are different confidence levels across the office or simply that your colleagues are rubbing each other up the wrong way, here’s an easy checklist that mines five principles of improvisation to help you keep your staff happy.

1) Go Deep With Your Listening
If you don’t listen deeply, you won’t correctly assess the situation in hand or truly show respect to the person in front of you. Listening isn’t simply waiting your turn to speak; it means really taking in what the other person is offering. Yes, conversations might stray, but they’ll be a ton more truthful. In improv, deep listening — not just listening to the words but also to subtext and body language — is to fast-track yourself to a useful outcome. And being listened to is to feel validated, so you’ll make allies in that workforce along the way.

2) “Gimme an ‘A!’ Gimme an ‘L!’…”
Allies! Everyone needs allies. Be a cheerleader and a team leader! If your baseline is: “I love my team: I support them and value them”, everyone wins. Sure, there’ll be disputes from time to time about project specifics or, say, the short-term direction of a department, but try to have a baseline of agreement, just as you would with any functional family. If you’re prepared to ‘Yes, And’ every initial offer that comes your way, you’ll stop judging and blocking the people in front of you and you’ll build the whole group’s confidence.

3) Don’t Be That Shoulder Guy
You’re busy, you’re stressed, you have a deadline looming. Why should you even take the time to be interested in your colleague’s cat chat? Well, look at it this way: remember that time you were at the office party being witty and engaging — only to have the other guy look straight over your shoulder and scan the room for someone ‘more interesting’ or ‘more valuable’? It hurts — and it undermines confidence in the most resilient co-worker. A ‘being interested’ plus? It takes the pressure off you having to be interesting, giving your ego a rest.

4) Bench Lord Business
In improvisation we have a lot of fun with status play and subversion of status classics such as teacher/student or boss/employee. If you’re a classic Lord Business (The Lego Movie’s controlling overlord), try holding back on those dominating habits and be your team’s equal. This doesn’t mean being a friend, per se, but a fair-minded match who’s prepared to get their hands just as dirty as the other citizens of Bricksburg. A commitment to equality pays dividends in terms of your colleagues’ positivity, loyalty and hard work.

5) Congratulations! You’re a Loser!
Taking calculated risks can catapult a company to greater achievement. The occasional by-product of risk-taking, however, is failure. Permission to fail is an improvisation cornerstone since it encourages wider thinking and more interesting choices. What’s important is that you’re a leader who is happy to try, to fail, and to try again. If you’re not happy to take risks, why would your staff be? And the team who sees you fail and happily jump in again will take risks themselves, knowing that it won’t break them. From happy failure comes resilience — the ultimate recovery system of any dynamic workforce.

So, take a leaf from the book of improvisation: ditch that classic celebration of instinctive, competitive behaviour and make an effort to keep your co-workers happy. You won’t look weak to your staff — on the contrary, they’ll appreciate it and work harder for you in return. Happy team-building!

Victoria Hogg is an Applied Theatre MA specialising in improvisation for business in London, UK. Victoria’s company The Offer Bank will help your team become more confident, creative and collaborative here. Learn presentation skills through comedy improv at Goldsmiths College here.