Tina Fey’s 4 Rules of Improv & the Sweet Spot of Healthy Workplace Culture

tina-feyI have this fantasy that in a former life I worked with Tina Fey. We were office buds, getting up to all kinds of antics yet so irresistibly delightful that everyone kept us around. We were so creative we’d save the day on projects, charm clients, and throw the best office socials.

What was the secret of our unbridled success you ask? Improve – office-style.

I’m not saying every workday was like a Second City sketch. I’m suggested we (in this hypothetical past life) brought the basic rules of improv into everything we did and stood for in a healthy workplace culture. And it worked. Here’s how.

Tiny’s 4 Rules of Improv

 1.  The first rule of improvisation is to AGREE.

We decided that every person on the team was deserving of being there; they had gifts, talents and passions that would make the team and what we could produce together better. We stopped questioning the value of Stan and the ethics of Mary and the effectiveness of Larry. Instead, we noticed things about Stan and Mary and Larry that worked and acknowledged, celebrated and cherished it in specific and meaningful ways. Everyone else on the team soon noticed things they hadn’t noticed before because Stan and Mary and Larry were working to full scope and happier in the process.

2.  The second rule of improv is to not only say YES; Say YES, AND

As a team, we stopped arguing about who was right, what data we should use, and the perfect course of action. We just simply agreed to agree so we could build on what each other brought to the table. had no patience for ego or one-up-personship and held each other accountable accordingly. We increasingly trusted that the ideas and information on the table were worthy of further development. What arose was collective wisdom beyond what any one person could contribute, in turn creating possibilities and solutions previously unseen.

3.   The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS

Tiny and I used to say (in this hypothetical past life): “You’re not contributing if you’re not speaking up, so for heaven’s sake, if it’s on your mind say it!” And we stopped qualifying ourselves with things like, “it’s only my opinion” (of course it is…whose opinion would it be?) and “that’s my two cents” and opted to express ourselves with confidence, standing behind our statements. It created an infectious energy. People also stopped speaking for the sake of speaking. Instead, when we couldn’t contribute to an idea, we could offer genuine, specific acknowledgements. Statements of positive reinforcement ensured everyone felt valued, heard and respected.


Blame and shame were banned. We became students of our mistakes. Mistakes became a great opportunity – to learn, get better, refocus, recommit – and we saw the gift of being challenged. We got hungry for mistakes to improve.


Does your workplace bring the best from the lessons of improv? What if it did? What could you do starting tomorrow?

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