Photo Credit: Salah Elleithy (Taken at Baltimore Improv Group)

Yes And…

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~African Proverb

Take a moment to think about the best meeting you have been in. What words come to mind? What made this meeting memorable?

If I were to take a guess. I would say you might have thought of words like fun, engaging, collaborative, thought provoking, dialogue, conversational, etc. This perhaps what made it memorable. What was the main ingredient for creating such an experience?

Last year, Google supported a research to learn how to build the perfect team and it came down to psychological safety. Here’s what they discovered:

“However, establishing psychological safety is, by its very nature, somewhat messy and difficult to implement. You can tell people to take turns during a conversation and to listen to one another more. You can instruct employees to be sensitive to how their colleagues feel and to notice when someone is upset. But the kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place.”

Enter IMPROV. If you have ever been to an IMPROV theatre, you probably know that there’s no script. The whole idea is to keep the scene going. In Tina Fey’s book on four rules of IMPROV, she outlined four rules that while focused on IMPROV, they can help improv team collaboration and develop stronger teams. So, what are Tina Fey’s 4 rules and how are they relevant to improving team collaboration?

Rule 1: Always agree and say yes…
Take whatever your partner has created and agree with it. You are not going to agree with everything but the rule reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with YES and see where that takes you.

What if you said YES more often? What if you decided that next meeting you will agree? What would that do to the level of collaboration in your team?

Rule 2: Don’t only say yes but say Yes, And…
Don’t just say yes, but YES, AND. For example, “if I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s hot in here” and you said “yeah”. We are STUCK. It’s a standstill.” Yes, AND also means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute.

What if you started saying “Yes, And” rather than “Yes, but”? What would that do to the dialogue?

Here’s a quick fun activity to try with your team. Think of a theme for a story (Ex: Planning a trip to the moon). Now, ask everyone to say one line and take turns to build on each other’s line. For example, I might start with, “I am planning this awesome trip to the moon.” The next person might say, “Yes, and it’s going to be on this cool spaceship.” The next person says, “Yes, and we will need to bring plenty of water along.” You can see how long you can keep this going or just do it for 5 minutes. I have done this several times and every time I discover yet another benefit to Yes, And. Not only will this improve your team collaboration, it could also be used for brainstorming and it is FUN!

Rule 3: Make statements
This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we are in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here?” I am putting a pressure on you to come up with all the answers. Instead of saying, “where are we? Make statements like here we are trying to solve the world’s problems.

While asking questions is encouraged as it helps clarify ideas and validate assumptions. It could be daunting for teams to always be answering questions rather than explaining their thought process and providing context on what made sense at the time.

Rule 4: NO mistakes, only opportunities
There are no mistakes just happy accidents.

Remember the Google research on teams and what it came down to. Teams need to feel safe and that it is okay to make mistakes. Learning will not occur if making mistakes is not encouraged and dare I say celebrated.

Well, if you don’t remember the four rules, just practice saying Yes, And and see where that takes you. It might not take you to the moon but it will certainly take you far.

Insights in this article are inspired by:




Human. Curious Learner. Teacher at heart. Passionate about enabling organizational agility and enhancing team capabilities.

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Human. Curious Learner. Teacher at heart. Passionate about enabling organizational agility and enhancing team capabilities.

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