The most important innovation for your team to work on (and a few starter exercises to help them do it)

Ian PrinslooYou know Ian Prinsloo is a master of creating ensemble in business because he says it with a French accent. Ensemble, he says, making you wonder why you ever pronounced it any other way. 

Prinsloo, an accomplished theatre director with a 30-year career (and Deeper Funner collaborator), works these days with social services and nonprofit clients from his London base, as well as oil and gas clients, energy regulators, researchers and other rigorously achievement-oriented groups.

What he does surprises them all: insist that ensembling come first, before any talk of team or organizational goals (a move that prompts some executives to break out in a cold sweat).

The innovation you should really be focusing on

If you look up the Latin underneath the word ensemble, you’ll find it literally means “at the same time.” Ensemble is both a noun and a verb: both “all the parts of a thing taken together, so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole; complex coordination between performers,” and the active practice of cultivating the relationships that enable this way of working. Prinsloo ardently believes this way of working is key to the adaptive creating most organizations want to achieve.

“The only innovations we need to worry about at present are social,” he maintains, explaining why he can treat clients from vastly different industry sectors the same.

If we change the way we are together, we change the work we do together. – Ian Prinsloo

In Ian’s work with organizations, the questions run deep: how do I release the potential of the individuals in this group? Where do they want the culture of the organization to go? Prinsloo brings an unflagging devotion to these questions before he meets the group, using them to design experiences that untie knots often deeply embedded.

Where to start?

Once with a group, he sets the explicit questions aside to dive into experiences that require groups to make physical choices together. He prefers a wide open space – the Alberta Ballet rehearsal room, for example – for the way it induces people to race, strut around, or otherwise use their bodies. (Notice: not a big conference room table in sight.) He starts with low-stakes games that allow the group to laugh. One is “More of This or More of That.”

A series of whimsical questions, like “potato chips or popcorn?”, gives people the chance to share easy things about themselves by physically placing themselves on points along a continuum. “Travel by train or boat?” “When traveling, live out of an exploded bag or neatly put your things away?” “Spring or fall person”?

“In a way, I start ensembling them before we start ensembling.” The physical experiences begin loosening the knots before cognitive conversation has a chance to kick in.

Sound stealthy? It is. How do you start?  

“Ah!” Says Prinsloo, delighted by the question. “You just start, by playing.” 

To make 2+2=5 (or more)

Here are two nitty-gritty, how-to audio clips on how Ian plays (“More of This or More of That” and “Back to Back, Face to Face”). Extra super duper bonus: a followup clip, “Spaces of Creation vs. Performance,” for a rundown on the philosophical shift companies most often miss. 

Game: More of This or More of That

Game: Back to Back, Face to Face

Unabashed philosophical rant: spaces of performance vs. creation

One thought on “The most important innovation for your team to work on (and a few starter exercises to help them do it)

  1. As a fellow advocate of a somatic approach to creativity, I look forward to receiving additional juicy tidbits!

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