Collaborating Through Yes And

photo by teaksato

photo by teaksato

Two words is all it takes to improve your team’s ability to work, think, and create together. Taken from the world of improv, they are the foundation to collaboration, cooperation, creativity and other words that start with the letter ‘c.’  What two words are they?  Yes And.

The Power of Yes And

The number one rule in improvisation, Yes And is a short phrase improvisers around the world embrace and use every time they take the stage.  It is about the acceptance and building of an idea, situation or action.

When you first start learning the art and science (it is both) of improvisation, the Yes And rule is very literal. One of the first games new improvisers learn is called Yes And. The game teaches the fundamental skills of listening and accepting (“Yes”) and building or contributing (“And”) by requiring every sentence in a simple scene to start with a player saying “Yes,” repeating what they just heard, and then adding new information.  One example scene might go:

A: “OK Thomas, let’s get started with today’s meeting.”
B: “YES, let’s get started with today’s meeting, AND we’ll brainstorm some new ideas.”
A: “YES, we’ll brainstorm some new ideas, AND come up with the next million-dollar product.”
B: “YES, we are going to come up with the next million-dollar idea, AND it will cure cancer, reverse balding, and improve the taste of broccoli.”

Now there’s nothing particularly amazing about this scene, but the fundamentals are there to take us into a wonderful world free of cancer, balding, and bad tasting broccoli.  By forcing the players to repeatedly say these words, they are reiterating, “YES I heard what you said and accept that you offered it, AND here’s how I’m going to build on that.”

Collaboration through Yes And

Yes And inspires teamwork and collaboration. Knowing you will not only have to understand what the other person is saying (though not necessarily agree with it), but also build on it, shifts our goal from “Here’s my idea” aka “Me me me” to “Here’s our idea” aka “We we we” (all the way home).

In business, this translates into a willingness to accept that something has been offered–a proposal, a corporate mandate, a budget cut. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, just that you acknowledge AND build on it, where “building” could include offering a new proposal (you are accepting that there is a perceived problem or opportunity and building on that by offering an alternative solution).

What Yes And Is Not

At first glance, Yes And seems to be synonymous with blind optimism, suggesting “everything happens for a reason,” and that there is this zen-like hippie idealism that everything is positive. This type of mentality would not bode well for any business–crises do occur, projects do fail, companies do lose money.

These events are hardly “for the best,” and that’s not what Yes And is suggesting. Rather, Yes And is about accepting a given situation and figuring out how you can build from it.  Said differently, Yes And is similar to the idea expressed by James K. Feibleman: “That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not.”

Yes And for Success

The theory of Yes And is quite powerful–but, at the end of the day, theory doesn’t sell product. The true benefit from the Yes And mentality isn’t realized until it is internalized. When Yes And becomes a part of how you behave, the effects are profound. When an individual, or even better, a team, understands this principle, negating is replaced by building, complaining turns into taking action, and wishful thinking becomes getting things done. There’s no challenge a team can’t handle when they agree to work and build together.

So how does one go about internalizing this mentality? The short answer is to incorporate it into how you think and behave. Improv workshops can augment this process, as can talking the concept with others. Consciously applying this mentality in key business applications can lead to incredible results.

No matter what situation you find yourself in, becoming frustrated and giving up will never lead to the best results. It is in these moments that Yes And proves its worth. Instead of growing frustrated due to lack of funding, or angry over mounting issues, you can accept the circumstances and figure out how you can build from where you are. Ask any manager, this type of attitude will surely lead to success.

So what are you waiting for? Start Yes Anding today by leaving a comment with your thoughts on these two powerful words.

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