IT is a field where hard skills are a must.
Either you know a programming language or you don’t.
Either you can fix the printer or you can’t.
Many IT roles require a demonstration of your knowledge and skills before they’ll consider hiring you. Here at Capterra, we have an IT skills test candidates have to pass before they can become part of our tech team.
But hard skills, like the ability to navigate the latest database management tool, aren’t the only kinds of skills an IT professional needs. And they certainly aren’t the only types of skills considered once you start working with a team.
Soft skills like communication and flexibility are equally as important as hard skills in IT.
My two cents: everyone on your tech team should take an improv class.
In improv comedy, there is no script. The performers make everything up as they go, and no two shows are the same.
So why would you want to emulate people who make up jokes on the spot and use improv for business? Below are six reasons everyone on your tech team should take an improv class.
1. Improv helps you figure out how to be flexible
As a tech professional, you know that not everything goes according to plan. You need to be flexible and figure things out as you go along.
In improv, there’s never a plan. And since everything is happening on stage in front of an audience, there are no do-overs. You can’t stop a scene in the middle because someone said the wrong thing. You always need to pay attention and respond to something the instant it happens.
And when your tech team is working on deadline to complete an important project, you have to do the exact same thing.
Studies have shown that improvisation shuts down the part of the brain involved in self-censoring. While that might sound scary, it means that in situations that require quick decisions, improv will train you not to second-guess yourself and contribute ideas that might help to fix whatever problem you’re experiencing.
Dealing with changes as they arise or putting out fires as they happen is something that probably happens every day on your team. But if you learn to take everything in stride and react accordingly to get things back on track, you’ll be able to address any issue that comes your way.
And addressing problems brings me to my next point.
2. Improv helps you trust and support your teammates
When you’re out on stage in front of a bunch of people with only one other person and no script, you need to be able to trust that the other person has your back
For that reason, every member of an improv group looks every other member in the eye and says, “I got your back,” before they go out on stage
It’s one part superstitious ritual and one part necessary reminder that you’re in all in this together. It’s a promise that no one is out for themselves, and everyone is going to do their best to make everyone else look good.
The same goes for your tech team. If someone makes a mistake, everyone needs to jump in and fix it. Good work gets done when everyone has each other’s back and looks out for their teammates. At the end of the day, everyone should be trying their hardest. And if one part of a project gets messed up, it’s everyone’s job to fix it.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is in charge of fixing the mistakes of someone who doesn’t bring their best work to the team. Having everyone’s back is also a reminder that trust has to be earned.
For example, in improv, if someone repeatedly goes out on stage and always steals attention or never listens to what you’re saying or makes you feel uncomfortable, people notice. And you’re probably not alone in your frustration with that person. If you don’t like being on stage with someone, it’s a good indicator that no one likes being on stage with them.
The same goes for your tech team. Yes, ideally, everyone should have everyone else’s back. But that means that it’s important to pay attention to the dynamics of the team and really understand how you work together to get things done. And if someone is causing constant problems, they need to learn how to work with the team so it doesn’t seem like they’re working against it.
3. Improv gives you better listening skills
Since paying attention to how everyone works together is key, I’m putting listening skills before communication skills as another thing improv helps you develop.
A good improviser is quick on their feet, noting every detail that comes their way. They also have the whole group’s performance in mind and not just their own.
You might think that quick thinking just means someone’s mind works at a fast pace, but it doesn’t. It means that they listen really well to what everyone else is saying, and then they act appropriately.
The same goes for your tech team. You always need to pay attention to what’s going on with your other team members.
Listening well helps you be empathetic, steer projects in the right direction, allocate resources, detect possible burnout, and, best of all, handle problems before they happen.
4. Improv helps you to communicate more effectively to solve problems
But while you should make sure you’re listening carefully to everyone on your team, you should also make sure you’re communicating clearly and effectively about your own needs.
Good teamwork includes listening and communicating what you need as an individual member of your team to accomplish your given tasks.
In improv, if you have an idea, you need to let your scene partner know as soon as possible. Your partner can’t read your mind. And as much as you might think you’re on the same page, you’re often not.
As we’ve already discussed, being prepared to deal with whatever your partner throws at you is a good skill to have in both improv and tech. But if you have a really good idea and want to see where it goes, on stage or in the office, you need to be clear and concise.
For example, say you wanted to do an improv scene about an alien invasion. Which of the following statements would give your partner a better idea of what you want to talk about?
A. “Hey, look over there!”
B. “Look at that spaceship in the distance! It just landed, and a bunch of aliens are coming out of it!”
Choice B communicates the fact that you want to talk about an alien invasion, whereas choice A doesn’t give your partner any details about what you want to talk about.
Communicating clearly and quickly about what you need is important for your tech team, too. Your team members won’t know what you need until you ask for it. Especially if you need help with something, it’s best to be clear about your needs and let people know right away what you’re asking them to do.
When you understand your team’s needs and can communicate your own, you can all work together to solve the same problem.
No matter what kind of team you’re on, improv or tech, your goal is to work together to end up in the same place. The weird and wacky journey that happens in between is all part of the fun.
And counting on your team to achieve the same goal brings me to my last point.
6. Improv helps you treat each other like geniuses
One of the most powerful things an improv instructor ever said to me before a class was, “We’re all going to treat each other like geniuses.”
Treating each other like geniuses involves all the ideas we’ve previously discussed: communicating clearly, trusting each other, and listening to what everyone has to say. Once you’ve done all these things, you can finally do the most important thing: understand that every person brings a different skill and perspective to every scene, every project, every task.
In order to do your best work, you need to understand that everyone has something they can add. And every addition that’s in line with your team goal, whether it’s completing a project by a deadline or putting on a really good show, is valid and helpful.
When your team members walk through the office door or sign on to Slack or go out on stage with you, they’re expecting you to show up with your best work because they know they need to show up with theirs.
When everyone is a genius, the whole team is held to the highest standards, and the best work gets done by everyone.
Tools that can help you capitalize on these skills
Now that we’ve illuminated all the benefits improv comedy can have for you and your team, get out there and sign yourself up for a class! Places like the Upright Citizens Brigade and The Second City offer workshops nationwide.
In the meantime, you can start using a few tools to develop the soft skills you want to work on.
A tool that all teams should use is one you don’t even have to pay for: regular meetings.
I’m not talking about ineffective ten-hour gabfests. I’m talking about a 30-minute meeting where everyone updates the team about what they’re working on. That way, the whole team knows how other members’ tasks align with general team goals. Capterra’s content team has biweekly meetings like these to help us all stay on the same page and our tech team has daily five minute standups to do the same thing.
Using a combination of these tools, your team can start communicating openly and effectively, and everyone can keep an eye on the status of ongoing projects, with or without the help of an improv class.
What methods work for you?
But what works for you and your tech team?
Is there a soft skill we haven’t mentioned that you think is crucial to IT success? Is there another non-traditional approach that your team uses to work better together?
Let us know in the comments section below.