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Think Outside of The Ball

Many of the improv techniques that we apply to business training at Carolina Improv Company are based in children’s games. Some people
have a harder time grasping this concept or accepting that it’s okay to “explore your inner child” to be a more productive adult.  In our training we encourage “childlike” behavior, not “childish” behavior. There’s a big difference. But hearing the word “child” in a corporate setting for some is extremely uncomfortable and unconventional.  For a trainer observing this behavior speaks volumes and indicates that some individuals are not able to shake off many years of being conditioned to be serious and practical instead of open minded and flexible.

There’s an exercise we use often as an icebreaker called Sound Ball. It’s a silly pattern game involving the tossing of an invisible ball to other people in a circle WHILE making a noise of their choice. It’s fun to execute to watch the participants’ wallscome down as they get over the fact that they are having fun while learning. What are they learning? Many things at the time:

1) To communicate non-verbally with eye contact and body language as they have to be clear on whom they are giving the ball to while the receiver is accountable to be ready to accept the ball at any given moment. There could be 20
other people in the circle and they all need to be ready to accept this “hot potato” just like one might need to be ready at work to accept an unexpected task or project.

Miscommunication is common at work. We think we understand the message or we think we communicated clearly but sometimes we have too much going on in our own worlds and minds that we either drop the ball or aren’t sure if the ball was thrown to us or the person next to us. Eventually someone gets the ball throwing back on track, similar to how things transpire in the work place. In this exercise we often hear, “Did you throw it to me?” It takes two to play ball and both of those people need to be connected and hyperaware of what’s going on around them.

2) To communicate with an unexpected sound or noise that is not a clear directive but an obvious communication
intended for one individual in the circle.

– This is probably the most fascinating and fun part of the exercise as people come up with the most creative and unexpected
sounds to accompany their ball toss. Some have words, some are animal noises, etc.

3) To be in the moment to complete three tasks at the same time (multitask) – receive the ball, pass the ball, think of a cool noise to make while passing the ball.

– This is another great moment for debrief when the participants say, “There was so much to do at the same time and I wanted to
be good at it and have a really cool noise that stood out.” This is so indicative of the pressure we put on ourselves to complete a task as expected and be accepted for our work. Some participants actually become stressed about this. We like to break it down to show them that they don’t need to be so hard on themselves by saying, “Okay, so you had three tasks – catch the ball, throw the ball and make a noise.” When put in those simple terms they usually laugh realizing that it really was just that simple. Do we over complicate our professional and personal lives by over dramatizing the task at hand instead of celebrating our small victories?

4) To learn about group dynamics and different personality styles through observation of the “cool noises” being created.

– When we debrief this exercise we often hear that the participants were surprised at the sounds their co-workers created – they didn’t
expect what they heard. It’s almost as if they learned something brand new about a co-worker solely on a sound. Maybe it’s because we are not always encouraged to be ourselves and show our personalities at work. Being “childlike” is not always acceptable in some work cultures yet in these training sessions it’s as if the adults are at recess for once.

5) To learn how to include new people in the circle instead of going to the same people over and over again, thus avoiding the mundane patterns we tend to create at work and in life.

– The human dynamics in this are always consistent: participants, without realizing it, make sure that everyone in the circle has received the ball through the first round. They make sure everyone gets a turn and isn’t left out of the game. But after that patterns form and we see them giving the ball to the same person over and over again, perhaps out of comfort. Maybe they know that person really well at work and they feel safe with
that person. They can trust that one person to catch the ball they’ve delegated. We all fall into patterns at work and sometimes we need to be pushed out of our comfort zones to make an impact on our jobs, with our co-workers or with our clients. A new pattern creates new ideas and new successes.

The motivation behind this blog is a comment from an evaluation in a recent training session that said: “Could do without the ball game.
Maybe use a real ball instead of an invisible ball so that it’s not so confusing.”
For most of the participants the ball WAS real once they made it their reality. We are only limited by our imaginations. If you can visualize something, it will happen. If you can accept an idea, you won’t be confused. See the world through the eyes of a child and the world can be yours.

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