An Improvisational Approach

Guest blog by Sonja Stetzler, MA, CPC

I met Sonja a little over a year ago, and when she told me about her use of improvisation in the workplace I was fascinated.  How is that possible I thought – it’s just that silly stuff they do on Whose Line is it Anyway.

As Sonja explained more, I realized it is so much more than that.  And as someone who cares deeply about creating cultures where people can win together and create great results, I wanted to learn more. The next month I took an improv class.

In doing so I found that the principles of improv really do apply to creating great work environments. That led me to ask Sonja to write this blog post. I found what she said to be spot on with my experience in working with teams. Hope you find her message to be valuable too.

In A Review of the Gallup Studies, researchers concluded that employee happiness, well-being, and engagement are strongly linked to productivity and profits. Yet, for the past 7 years, the Gallup survey of employee engagement has remained consistent, hovering around 32 – 33% overall with U.S employees. This can pose a major challenge for small business owners. How can leaders and managers improve and increase their employee happiness, well-being, and engagement?

One interesting and surprising answer might be theatrical improvisation. What? How can improvisation improve the levels of happiness, well-being, and engagement with employees? The secret is that improvisation is not about being funny – it’s all about the relationships with the actors on stage. The funny comes in with the emotional authenticity with which the scene is played. Ultimately, underlying the success of any improv scene lies in the fundamental skills of good communication: listening, observing, and accepting what others have to say. These are also the foundational skills necessary for improving the employee experience in a work environment, which can influence employee overall performance as well.

How can improv improve the culture of your small business?

  1. Listening – The most important skill of an improv actor is the ability to listen for the “gifts” within a dialogue that enables the scene to move forward. Translating this to a small business means making the time to listen to employees’ concerns and ideas. Those who are on the front lines know best what the problems are and can most readily offer solutions. Taking the time to listen validates an employee’s sense of worth and value to the organization. Every idea does not have to be acted upon, however, listening provides recognition and a culture of caring.


  1. Observing – Improvisors must be observant enough to pick up on the nonverbal and emotional cues sent by their ensemble members which provide direction for where the scene is going. Leaders and managers of small businesses must assess the organizational culture and emotional climate as a first step to creating a positive work environment. Identifying and maximizing individual and team strengths, encouraging face-to-face conversations, and learning to read nonverbal cues are all critical components of becoming a proficient observer of your business’s culture. Developing your powers of observation will enable you to be proactive if changes occur in your organization’s climate.




  1. Accepting – Commonly known as “yes, and…”, this approach facilitates an open dialogue and a conversation between people. “Yes, and” does not necessarily mean agreement, it is an acknowledgment that one’s voice has been heard. Accepting facilitates connecting with others, and when we are able to connect with others in an authentically, open way, we fulfill our sense of belonging. The “yes, and” approach also opens the door for new ideas to spring forth and can be a catalyst for innovation. “Yes, and” fosters positive relationships within organizations, which are key to successful collaboration required to make progress, and get stuff done.

What is the result of bringing improv skills into your business? Better communication skills, higher engagement, and an increase in well-being. This leads to higher productivity, a better bottom line, and more positive work culture. And don’t be surprised if you hear a little more laughter as a bonus!

As always, if you have any questions or comments to add to the topic – please drop a comment below or feel free to reach out to me on social media. If you want to learn more about improv training you can reach Sonja Stezler, the author, at [email protected].



Sonja Stetzler is the founder of Effective Connecting, a business that develops clients’ communication skills to ensure their success in the workplace. Sonja has decades’ worth of experience teaching and coaching both at universities and in organizations, as well as with individual clients. Her approach is unique, utilizing improvisation techniques to deepen her clients’ ability to develop their communication skills. She’s been trained by Second City in their Applied Improvisation program and at Northwestern University in Chicago. You can contact her at [email protected].