Recently, during a leadership interview, I was asked to make a connection between improvisational comedy and leadership. The person asking the question was aware of my experience playing and teaching team-based improv similar to the television show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.
The first thought that occurred to me was “framework with flexibility.” All team improv games have a framework or structure. For example, in the game, Changing Emotions, the facilitator elicits several emotions from the audience like fear, anger, joy, excitement, confusion, etc. and writes them down. A starting topic is provided to the players, such as “you are people on a sinking ship.” As players create the scene, the facilitator yells out an emotion. The players must take on that emotion and justify it. The facilitator continues to call emotions, and players continue to change emotions, until the game is over. The framework for this game is very clear, and there is a great amount of flexibility for the players to express their creativity, skills, and style.
A framework is the information, ideas, and principles that form the structure of an organization or plan (Cambridge Dictionary). For example, the Constitution of the United States is a framework. A company’s paid-time-off (PTO) policy is a framework. A methodology for serving a client is a framework.
Frameworks are necessary for people to work well together. They provide direction, help align expectations, and establish boundaries for behaviors. Consider the different airlines and the ways they serve customers. Southwest, Spirit, and Delta have very distinct frameworks for delivering their service.
Frameworks have degrees of rigidness based on the application. An assembly line will have very rigid frameworks while a marketing methodology will be more fluid. The challenge, however, is if a framework is too rigid, people feel constrained and controlled. On the other hand, if the structure is too loose, people feel confused and lost. A framework that is “just right” will give people clear direction while allowing them to experience the freedom to feel a sense of autonomy and flexibility.
Thus, the opportunity for a leader is to create and lead frameworks that provide direction, align expectation, and establish helpful boundaries while leaving room for people to express their creativity, skills, and style.