This past weekend I led a retreat with the leadership of a local faith based charitable organisation. The main objective of the retreat was finding a way to think creatively about the challenges that the organisation faces. The goal was to figure out new ways to centre everything they are doing around the purpose of the organisation.
They are working out how to ensure what they do is shaped by why they exist.
This was going to involve some brainstorming and real out of the box thinking, so some ground work needed to be done. The hope was to move people out of the default of listening to reply, into a more open attitude of listening to understand.
We introduced an improv game which is designed to help people focus on what the other person is saying BEFORE figuring out what they are going to say.
We put people into groups of 4 or 5, and told them to have a conversation with each other. They can talk about whatever they want, with two rules:
1) They need to take turns going around the circle, so that everyone speaks in turn.
2) Every person needed to start their sentence with the last word of the previous person’s sentence.
A: “I can’t believe we are being forced to do this exercise.”
B: “Exercise is one of my least favourite things to do.”
C: “Do you think we are going to get snacks later?”
D: “Later, we should go out to Dairy Queen.”
E: Queen Latifah is highly overrated.”
A: Overrated actresses should not be paid so much.”
B: Much of what happens in Hollywood is illogical.”
Now, as I was introducing the game something very interesting happened. The members started to try and make it difficult for the next person to start a sentence. They would try to end their story on some weird word which was obscure (like I just did). This way they could have a laugh as the next person tried to make a sentence start with that word.
This doesn’t really build a sense of unity in the team, however. It also forgets one of the fundamental rules of improv, “Don’t Block“. Blocking is anything you do which negates the ability of someone else to make a contribution. Blocking is basically saying, “My way is the best.” Or even, “I am the best.” It seeks the easy laugh at the expense of someone else. It pits people against each other, and makes them into rivals instead of co-creators.
Needless to say the rules were reshaped to include supporting the others in the conversation and trying NOT to make it difficult for the next person.
I’m pretty sure this particular board is not unique. I think we all need to learn how to listen to understand AND support, not just reply.