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Birng a brick_edited.jpg

Collaboration is hard.


It takes more planning and effort. People’s vision for the outcome are different, requiring more wrangling to get to the end. I know there are times when I’ve felt like things would be so much easier and faster if I just “did it myself” instead of trying to do it through a team.

The promise of collaboration – that we get to harness all of our team’s unique perspectives and talents to create better outcomes – is often overshadowed by the pain of making collaboration work. Yet, according to research, 75% of us believe collaboration is important for success.

I’m no logistics experts, but there’s a mindset from improv that can help make collaboration work. It’s best summed up in a saying that I love: Bring a brick, don’t build a cathedral.

In improv, this means we don’t have to be individually responsible for everything that happens on stage. In fact, we shouldn’t be. As improvisers, if we try to ‘build a cathedral’ ourselves, we end up forcing the direction of the scene. We stop listening and we miss all of the gifts our teammates bring the scene. The work on stage feels manhandled. And, that feels bad. Definitely it feels bad for out teammates, but the audience can pick up on it, too.

When we bring a brick, we’re adding without taking over. We’re giving space for our teammates to bring their own brick and allowing for their contribution to change the nature of what we’re building, even just a bit. So, while we may have a wonderful cathedral built in our own minds, the cathedral we build as a team is almost certainly better.

How does this translate to workplace collaboration? Well, it means we can contribute without having the full solution ourselves. It means we can be open to what our teammates bring. Importantly, this translates into teammates feeling valued. Research by the University of Exeter showed that feeling valued by what we bring to the table as unique contributors is one of the most important factors in creating a sense of belonging (in turn, leading to greater loyalty and better contributions).

Put another way, collaboration not only gets to better outcomes it also leads to a happier and healthier culture.


Improv LABS: How it feels to bring a brick
One of the cool things about building together – and each teammate bringing a brick – is experiencing something completely unexpected. It can be tough to let go and give room for everyone to contribute, but it can also be incredibly freeing and exciting!

If we want to play a specific game around this, here’s an easy one: I’m a piece of cheese.

Sounds cheesy, I know (see what I did there). Believe me, though, this game really lights folks up! We can try it with our team:
•    Each team member goes in turn offering one element that builds on the last.
•    It starts with a basic offering, such as “I’m a piece of cheese.”
•    The next teammate’s offer builds on that, for example “I’m the plate the cheese is sitting on.”
•    The next offer is based on what came before and expands. E.g. “I’m the rat that’s eyeballing that piece of cheese.”
•    And so on.


What often comes up doing this exercise is the delight in seeing not only the surprising places these offers go, but also the story that emerges. It’s wonderful how a kind of narrative gets created together when everyone just brings a brick.
•    What did it feel like to just add a brick?
•    What surprised us?
•    How did we let go of the outcome?


If our team isn’t ready to play this game, or we just want to try what it feels like to really build, here’s a way to play on your own.


The next meeting, work session, etc. come with the intent to be a builder. As “offers” (i.e. ideas, suggestions, plans, etc.) are made in the meeting / session, find the element you want to build on. Add one brick to that offer. Keep it simple. Maybe make the offer by starting with “What if…” There may be an impulse to expand and explain, but we can remind ourselves to just bring a brick. 

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