Joy at Work: Q&A with Improv Asylum’s Chet Harding

Be present. Listen. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

These are just a few fun tips from Chet Harding, co-founder of Improv Asylum, on building a more human workplace through the power of improvisation. In our Q&A below, Harding gives a sneak preview of what to expect from his WorkHuman session with Improv Asylum’s co-founder Norm Laviolette titled, “Train Your Mind to Think on Its Feet!”

Read the full interview below or listen to it on the WorkHuman Radio podcast embedded at the top of this post.


Why do you think laughter is important to building a human workplace?

Laughter helps break down barriers between people. A lot of times when we work with our clients, it’s not so much about teaching people to be funny; it’s more about breaking down barriers and giving people the ability to give their voice, to give their thoughts, to put their ideas out there. I think laughter helps encourage that – to let my guard down and say what I’m thinking. It helps people work off each other so that we bond a little bit together, and frees me up to give bold ideas rather than playing it safe all the time.

Do you have any tips for creating more space for laughter and joy at work?

One of the best things to do is to not take things so seriously. We can certainly work hard and aim for goals and do the best we can, but to be open to laughing at yourself I think opens that joy. A lot of what we do isn’t so much about laughter as much as it is listening and acknowledging and working off other people. When you do that, it tends to create a bond that then opens the possibility for laughter, and the idea that you can enjoy working together.

A lot of people go to improvisation shows for fun. What is improvisation’s place at work? How do you think it can improve management and leadership?

When we’re on stage, we get a suggestion from the audience. We have no idea what they’re going to yell out, and it’s certainly a pressured environment. We take one of those ideas, and then, as a team, we literally create something out of nothing. We don’t know how many people are going be in the scene. We don’t have a script. But we’re working off each other and we’re listening to create something. Very quickly we build an idea that’s really funny. If you went back and asked whose idea it was, you realize it wasn’t any one of our ideas, yet it’s bigger and better and funnier than if one of us just did a monologue based on the suggestion.

How we work off each other as a cohesive cast is completely applicable, certainly to work environments, and even just life in general. When we’re on stage we are hyper-listening, and being in the moment and being present. The golden rule of improvisation is, “yes, and…” It’s about listening and then building off each other. It’s not just about saying yes. It’s about saying, “yes, and…” and adding your idea. When we do that, we end up creating a culture where we can build bigger and better ideas that no one had on their own.

What are the most common communication challenges you see in your trainings?

The number one thing is people don’t listen to each other. Have you ever met somebody and five seconds later you have no idea what their name is? It happens all the time. In that moment, you’re not really listening or paying attention. You’re either sizing that person up or you’re thinking about what you’re going say. People tend not to listen right before it’s their turn to speak. We lose opportunities in those moments when we’re not being present.

What can people expect from your session at WorkHuman?

It will be an interactive session that focuses on the idea of how you can be present and think on your feet faster. It will also be about tapping into this idea of the power of “yes, and…” – what it can do for you individually, but also what it can do for your team.
It’s something we’ve even used with WorkHuman. Two years ago, we were invited to come check out the conference and we said, “Well, we’d love to come.” And then the “and” was, “and if there’s a possibility, we’d love to do a session for you.”

What does a more human workplace mean to you?

Globoforce is great at the idea of employment recognition – how strong that can be in building culture. Improvisation is almost like everyday employee recognition because it makes people feel like they’ve been heard and that they’re part of the team. Studies have shown that if people feel they’ve been listened to and that they’ve had input, even if you go in a direction they don’t necessarily agree with, they’re more likely to support it. That’s something I think working human is all about, which is how do we connect and listen and work off each other?


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Sarah Payne Sarah Payne (160 Posts)

As Managing Editor, Sarah manages Globoforce’s blog and writes content about making work more human for people and organizations worldwide. She has a BA in English and Writing from University of Rhode Island.