Don't Pimp Your Partner: Partnership Lessons from the World of Improv

Doing improv stretches us, but it's not a stretch to see how applicable these lessons are for developing awesome, respectful, creative, collaborative partnerships. These are the rules we took away:

  1. 1. Accept what you are given.

    For example, if someone throws a line at you such as, "Look at that briefcase lying on the ground over there," you shouldn't utter a negative, idea-killing response such as, "That's not a briefcase, that's a bomb!" Instead, catch it with the intention of making the most of it. For example, you could open up the imaginary briefcase and be surprised by what you find inside. That's the spirit of this 'Rule of Agreement' - respect what your partner has created and work with him to make it the best of all possible ideas. Recall the old adage "a poor plan well-implemented is better than a good plan poorly implemented."

  2. 2. Say "Yes. And..."

    After you've accepted what you are given, build on it. Make the idea better. More entertaining. More unusual. In organizations, this might mean making things more innovative, more foolproof, more fun to work hard on, more culturally-appropriate, or more likely to be accepted by senior management.

  3. 3. Sometimes you need to lead. Sometimes you need to follow. And sometimes, you just need to be a singing tree.

    It would be rare for most of us to end up as a singing tree on our team, as happened to Jennifer in a skit where she ended up being part of a musical forest. However, we are regularly presented with situations that require us to play unexpected roles. Often what the scene needs or what your team needs doesn't seem particularly glamorous or interesting or exciting. Despite that, step up and give it your all: always be as engaged as you can. Act as if you are already in your dream job. This builds trust and credibility, and increases the chances that your dream role or job is right around the corner.

  4. 4. Don't pimp your partner.

    Don't set your partner up to fail. Saying "Jane stands on her head at the end of every sentence" might seem entertaining to you until you are on the receiving end of one of those bullets. Put yourself in your partner's shoes and give her an opportunity to shine, not fail. There is a wise saying, "Before you put yourself in someone else's shoes, take your own shoes off first." Not pimping your partner also means you are working hard to truly consider her needs, strengths, and comfort zone, not only how you would feel.

  5. 5. Keep track of what's happening on stage.

    Always listen and be on your toes. Strong followership takes as much focus and attention as strong leadership. Think, "How can I best support my partner?" or, better yet, "What are all the ways that I can support my partner?" Note how much more expansive the second question is? How it encourages us to dig deeper?

  6. 6. Help create the scene; don't just be part of it.

    Initiate and contribute generously. Look for an opportunity to help your team by taking on a leadership role when needed. Offer novel content, context, or structure to define a situation rather than waiting and letting your partners do all the work. The best collaborations are when all participants are equally at the table, they feel equally important to getting the job done, and their contributions are equally valued.