The Power of Improv and Story Telling

While we do a lot of things in our lives daily, the interesting fact is that our life is nothing but a combination of various stories. Some might be good, some might be bad. Some we realize later, some sooner and while all the stories revolve around us, we tend to keep moving on. On a reflection these stories are important to connect the dots. If you heard the famous speech by Steve Jobs, it tells how connect the dots backwards it all makes sense, and how important that it.

Story telling started in my life early in various forms, but with improv from m3.0 it was another flavor. I’ve tried the m3.0 improv cards with teams for retrospective, and then with leaders for their views, and lately with kids to take their feedback.

Let me start with the most common way I’ve done this which is in the sprint retrospective. Like any other retrospective, the main purpose is to collect what went well and what could be improved. Only that this time I lay down a pack of cards. In one variation I hide the images, so that it can be a random image which the person gets whereas sometimes I just lay down all the cards (like you see in image) and seeing the image the person tells 1 thing which he/she thinks went well or can be improved.

One Interesting aspect is where I feel that each image has a different perception amongst everyone, and so I never let them help each other. I just tell them to use their own imagination and think what it is. Because the image is not that important, as the story linked to the image. While some people have a story in mind and just link the image to the story, others create the story with the image (which is the interesting one).

Often when you do storytelling, you remove the persona’s out of the picture, and you just narrate the whole incident as a story, which makes it valuable, non-offensive and very open like a fact. The facilitator often notes the output of the story, and then we discuss on the story if needed.

The images are cool, so you see people smiling and thinking at times. Other times, they complain that they don’t understand the image, but again I tell them to use their creative minds.

While we go along the room, we suddenly see people being more energetic and active. The improv cards have that effect on people who start realizing that they can tell a story with the good/bad without it looking like a blame or a cry which is brilliant. It’s like a superpower at times which is funny but true.

So, we go across the room and the facilitator takes public notes, hence discussing actions.

Another way I did once was the team to lead the activity, and they themselves making the notes, hence self-organizing on what was important.

Another variation I tried was “A day in the sprint” way, where I tell people to tell a story of a day in the sprint where 1 thing good or 1 thing bad or a combination happened. It could 1 good from one day and 1 bad from one day, but it should be 1 story.

I tell them at times to pick multiple cards too, if it helps them. Again, the power lies in the story.

With the leadership team, when I use the cards, it’s mainly for their views/feedback/observation, like let’s discuss about this team, and while people like to keep silent, the improv gives them voice and suddenly we see stories.

A small number of people have problem seeing the cards and telling stories, but I give them time. I feel a kid inside a person always lives who knows how to stich a story which is so important.

Leaders often are vocal, but the story again makes it more factual, and it’s to draw points from stories in my experience.

Another variation I did recently was with bunch of kids. Here is how I went about with them:

I distributed six improv cards to each kid. All of them were wondering what the heck was this? They were thoroughly amused looking at the strange images. The idea was for them to use the images and tell things about their life looking at what has happened.

I emphasized on the fact that sometimes in life, we need to seriously reflect on what all we are doing, what is done and where are we headed. The emotions and facts that surface during self-reflection is a powerful thing. I’ve sat with people talking about this and seen them sometimes ending in tears, but always emerging with a clearer sense of where they may want to go from there. So, we started the activity with instruction to use a minimum of three out of six cards and narrate a story from their lives. In parallel we created a word cloud from what came as stories (you can see in the images).

With something as simple as this, the topics which emerged like gender, society, aspirations, dreams, parents were quite powerful, and I felt the session went way beyond what I had initially thought of. While some reflections were tough for me as a person to digest, others were good to hear. We don’t realize in life that when we keep the problem or state the problem, we are in a way seeing the problem in absolute starkness. We see it from a different perspective, and again this is necessary. The word cloud was simply illuminating compared to some of the other sessions I’ve done before.

Lastly, I’ve also done improv using Story Cubes. You can read about them here.

Again, for me all the 3 set of people (Scrum Teams/Leaders/Kids) had unique experiences with Improv, but I can always see the kid stitching the story and I feel very good when I listen to through insightful stories. I think this art of storytelling makes this practice of m3.0 very powerful.

If you want to learn more about improv cards, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

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