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Build Improvisational Skills For Effective Change Management

I’m sure I no longer have to make the case that gaining skills that allow you to adapt to change quickly is of vital importance these days.  A look at the state of the economy and technology seems to make my case in new ways on a daily basis.

But if you want more proof, a paper written by Professor Wanda J. Orlikowski of MIT’s Leadership Center found that agility , flexibility and improvisation – a company’s ability to quickly change is crucial to its long-term success.

The MIT paper states that adopting an improvisational approach to change  “may enable organizations to take advantage of the evolving capabilities, emerging practices, and unanticipated outcomes that accompany use of new technologies in contemporary organizations.”

It provides five tips for creating such organizations.

  1. Plan to improvise - plan to address change in a flexible way.
  2. Adapt when you cannot foresee –  by adapting on a small department scale, you can test change and risk less before implementing changes company-wide.
  3. Create a learning environment – Silos are out. Encouraging communication between employees in different locations and departments helps everyone learn from each other.
  4. Encourage flexibility – when CEOs  release some control and allow employees to experiment they encourage the practice of improvisation.
  5. Improvise today for success tomorrow – Nurture an atmosphere of  of experimentation and improvisation on a day to day basis so the skills are there when you need them.

As someone who has learned and internalized many improvisational skills, I would say that number five on the list may be the most important.

We all talk a good game.  I certainly did.  I could see that those who weren’t afraid of taking risks were the ones who scored all the prizes.  I would regularly share that view with everyone I met. But did that make me get out there and leap? No.

Practicing games that forced me to be flexible, take risks, think on my feet, work collaboratively and more, ingrained these habits in me.  Talk to any improv performer and they will say the same thing.  If they didn’t naturally have these skills when they started, a few months of training and these skills began to be second nature.

In today’s world where change happens virtually at the speed of light, many of us have realized we need to build skills that help us adapt and thrive.  For some, yoga is the answer. For others it’s meditation. Sometimes the answer is more knowledge or social connections.

I would suggest that regular practice of improv games can be as life-enhancing and strengthening as any of these. Individuals or organizations that make a time and place for this regular practice are more likely to thrive in both certain and uncertain times.

(Photo by Stew Dean)

Jenise Fryatt

Jenise Fryatt is the founder and chief trainer of Eventprov.

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