15 Improv games to develop leadership skills and ensemble thinking in your group (part two)

Way back in March (remember March?), we posted “15 Improv games to develop leadership skills and ensemble thinking in your group (part one)” in response to collaborators near and far who asked for some of our favorite improv games to have handy when getting ready for a meeting. 

Here it is, the thrilling conclusion of “15 Improv games to develop leadership skills and ensemble thinking in your group (part one).” (Pay no attention to the numbering below. It’s really 10-15 of our prior post):

  1. Ah-so-ko – Use this silly, physical game to get blood pumping after lunch or in the morning. Ah-so-ko promotes less thinking, more laughing.
  2. Rock paper scissors cheerleader – This simple game gets shockingly fun – and loud – as more people lose. By surrendering yourself to becoming someone’s biggest fan, surprising behavior, partners and teams emerge toward a thrilling conclusion that involves the whole room.
  3. Tiger/Martian/Salesman – From the ComedySportz description we’ve linked to here: “This exercise asks people to try to get a group mind going, and also to wildly celebrate even silly victories. It is strangely satisfying to have everyone do a martian.”
  4. Confluence – From DFCP collaborator Karen Dawson. Ridiculously satisfying experience of going from diversity to connection.

Confluence is a ridiculously satisfying experience of going from diversity to connection.

  1. Players stand in a circle.
  2. To begin, invite everyone to think of a word.
  3. When one person has a word, they call out “One!” When a second person has a word, they call out, “Two!” These two rush to the center of the circle and simultaneously say, “Three!” Then, they simultaneously call out their words: e.g., “Hippopotamus!” and “Pencil!”
  4. As they return to their places in the circle, everyone looks for a connection between the two words. The first person to think of a word that connects them calls out, “One!” The second person calls out “Two!” Together, they say, “Three!” And then, “Tail!” and “Drawing!”
    • Pro tip: Encourage people to fight for the middle – there is nothing sluggish about this game.
  5. The game continues until two people in the middle, after their “Three!,” call out the same word.

5.  Three in the Middle – From Jess Lee, an awesome Portland improviser: “Everyone is standing in a circle and one person steps into the center doing a sound and motion. Immediately two people enter the circle doing that same sound/motion. They continue repeating that sound/motion until someone from the outside circle steps in with a new sound/motion. Two people immediately enter the circle to do that new sound and motion, and the three that were doing the previous sound/motion leave the center. There are no pauses without action; there should continuously be at least three people in the center of the circle.” Most important: participants’ willingness to join immediately, so no one is alone in the circle. Also? “No half assing,” Jess writes. Commit fully to the sound/motion, no matter what.

6.  Line story – From Laura Faye Smith, an Empress of Portland theatre and improv. This one’s just complex enough that we’ll break it down into steps.

  1. Have one person start by coming to the center of the playing space and speak a random line that could be somewhere in a story.  It could be a statement, a question, a line of dialogue – whatever.
  2. Have a second player come up and decide whether the line of dialogue he/she is about to say would come before or after the line already spoken by the person on stage. If it should come before, he/she stands to the right of the first player, and if it would come after, he/she stands to the left of the first player. The line added by the second player should be random as well, and in no way connect to the first line spoken.
  3. If you are playing with a large group (15 or more), have third player come up and add another unrelated line, again deciding where the line would fall in the story order before saying it. Each time a player adds a line, and before another new player adds one, have all the players in the line repeat their lines, starting with the person standing the farthest to the left and ending with the person farthest to the right.
  4. The rest of the group then comes up one by one, deciding where their line should be placed in the lineup, but from here on out only adding lines that ARE related and help link information and make a cohesive story.
  5. When the last person has contributed their line, hear the story the group has created, starting with the person at the far left and ending at the far right.
    • Pro tips:  Don’t let players add weak offers such as “Once upon a time” or “the end.” Let players know that the longer they wait to contribute a line, the more responsibility they have to find ways to tie information together. Also, encourage people to keep their line simple and easy to remember, since they will have to repeat it multiple times.

Pro tip uber alles

Keith Johnstone, a brilliant improv director and theorist, often remarks how surprised he is when people come to watch him facilitate workshops. They spend all their time furiously scribbling what he does (the games) but pay little attention to how he does it. He takes his inspiration from the Tao’s “unseen leader,” teaching and facilitating in a way that creates the conditions for the group to own their own learning. What does this look like? Check out the early pages of Keith’s book Impro (you’ll find a link to the book in the improvisation section of the DFCP library).

There you have it, 15 ways to get a group engaged, laughing, and working together in a new way. Dare you to try one you haven’t before, and leave us a comment on how it worked for you. Or, leave us a variation or one of your top fivers! We look forward to trying something new.