Collaboration at Work: Improv Techniques to Build Rapport and Trust | Tim Washer | Skillshare

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Collaboration at Work: Improv Techniques to Build Rapport and Trust

teacher avatar Tim Washer, Comedy Writer/Keynote Speaker

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Why Foster Collaboration


    • 3.

      Using Improv Techniques at Work


    • 4.

      Sharpening Your Listening Skills


    • 5.

      Building Rapport and Trust


    • 6.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Elevate your collaboration skills at work with comedy writer and keynote speaker Tim Washer! 

Believe it or not, there’s a lot the corporate world can learn from classic improv principles—from building rapport and trust with your coworkers to sharpening your listening skills. Join Tim as he delves into the importance of collaboration at work and the key improv tactics—such as supporting your partner and following the fear—to make you the best team player you can be, and the most well-liked employee. 

Alongside Tim, you’ll learn: 

  • Why collaboration is vital to getting things done at work 
  • How to apply improv techniques at work
  • How to sharpen your listening skills and let others know you’ve heard them
  • How to build rapport and trust with your coworkers 

Whether you are just starting up at a company or a tenured employee, this class will teach you how to improve your relationships at work and get more done than ever before. 


Tim’s class is designed for students of all levels to participate and enjoy. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Tim Washer

Comedy Writer/Keynote Speaker


Hi, I'm Tim! I spent 20 years at IBM, Cisco and Interpublic Group while moonlighting as a comedy writer/actor on SNL, Conan, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  I studied improv under Amy Poehler, comedy writing with The Colbert Report executive producer, and PowerPoint at UT Austin Graduate School of Business.   As a keynote speaker, I worked with SXSW, GEICO, Forrester CMO Council, Harvard Business School and The White House; and my award-winning videos have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, ADWEEK and Fast Company.  I work with CEOs to use humor to build encouraging, trusting, creative culture in remote-work environments. See full profile

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1. Introduction: When I teach improv workshops, I see people completely transformed, because so much of it it's about getting out of your comfort zone, letting go of your fear, and truly being willing to accept yourself, accept your ideas and explore. I've always believed that if we took some of those rules from improv and brought that into the corporate world where we truly trusted and encouraged each other, we have so much better outcomes, and that's what we're going to talk about today. Hi, I'm Tim Washer. I am a comedy writer and video producer. I started my career in sales and marketing and then took a detour into comedy, writing for TV shows, doing stand-up in New York and improv, and now I take what I learned in comedy to help brands and marketing departments connect with their customers. What we'll talk about today is how do you use these improv principles to foster collaboration? How do you sharpen your listening skills? How does all that lead to building rapport and trust? Because without trust, nothing happens. I hope that anyone in organization that has to collaborate or ask people for something, our partner with someone else takes this class because the improv rules we'll talk about here will dramatically make it easier to do that. I'd love it if after this class, you each practice this and share an experience on how you're able to change a relationship with the office and move things forward, and put it into the gallery so we can learn from your experience. Okay, now let's get started. 2. Why Foster Collaboration: The value of open collaboration is that you're building relationships. You're focused on building a long-term relationship versus just getting done what you need to get done and moving on. When you play the short-term game, you get stuck a lot. If you focus more on building a long-term relationship, then it's going to be more and more easy every time you go back to this person with a request. We can't get anything done in the corporate world, in the enterprise world without reaching out to other people and asking for things. It's part of the job. Let me share examples of two different cases where I had to work with a corporate attorney to get approval on something I wrote. In the first case, I was writing a speech for the general manager. I sent it to an attorney for review. She just sent the copy back to me and took the time to go through, and highlight, and cross out every single word in there. I think maybe there was a period, or a participle left uncrossed out. There was no suggestion on, "Here's how you move forward," it was just, "No, I can't say any of this." I just ignored what she sent me, and I never went back to her again. She didn't get done what she needed to get done, and I probably didn't get the legal review I needed. But whatever, I'm still bitter about that. That was 20 years ago. Let it go, Wash. Let it go. In case b, I send a note to get approved by a script, a comedy script to get approved by attorney. She sends me back an email, says, "Hey. I read your script. It's funny. Can we get on the phone and talk about it?" She asked me about, "Hey, listen, what are you being asked to do? What's your boss asking you to do? What your internal client doing?" She listened to me first, and she wanted to see where I was coming from. She cared about my point of view and the things I had to get done. She showed me respect. She explained to me, here are the risk in some of these areas here, are you open to making changes?" I was like, "Of course I am." It's so much different when somebody educates you in a respectful manner, and then ask, "Hey, look, can we work here on this," versus saying, "Cross it out." Now we're going forward, and I reached out to her now much earlier in the process because we have some rapport, I feel respected, and I feel heard. We were able to get through a decision that works better for each of us much faster. It saves us time. Now I have an ally instead of an enemy. That's the idea. That's what we're trying to do here, is to build long-term cooperative relationships that'll help you get things done much easier, much faster, and help you also rise up in your corporation and advance your career. 3. Using Improv Techniques at Work : Back to the Improv Show. Long-form improv is a troop of six or seven people walking out on stage with absolutely nothing planned, taking one suggestion from the audience and from that just creating this half-hour show in nine different scenes. It's absolutely amazing to see this come together because the team just works together. They trust each other and they support each other. Now, compare that to the corporate world and a committee meeting. It's a little bit different. How do you get that kind of trust, support, and encouragement from your teammates to where you feel like you can just walk out and start with nothing and know that it's going to work out okay? Let's get into some of these rules that improvisers use that make that happen and create that area of emotional safety so they can move forward and take this kind of risk. The first principle is, support your partner. This is one of the most important rules. Do you take the focus off of you and your performance? Like how can I look good? I'm I looking okay? Does this sound right? Once you drop all that, that's what creates anxiety is worried about our own performance. Once you focus on your partner and saying, "How can I be a servant here? How can I make my partner look good?" All of a sudden now your mind transforms and you're in a better state, you're in a much more positive state. We know that when we're in a positive state of mind, the brain's working 31 percent more effectively. It just makes life easier. When you're coming from this place of supporting your partner, it's a lot easier to respond instead of react. In the corporate world, so much of our communication is written. It's Slack, it's text, it's email. For some reason, I think written communication just sounds more negative. When you get that instead of reacting and just shooting back a message like you're wrong, you're in a place where you can respond, where you can take a breath and say, "Hey, I just want to test for understanding. I just want to check and see if this is what you were talking about." Then, you move forward. It just calms the mind a bit and helps you just be at peace a little bit more before you come right back at somebody in a reaction. The second principle is follow the fear. Del Close, the father of long-form improv came up with this idea. He said, "When you're up on stage and your partner gives you a suggestion, three or four different responses will pop into your head right away. One of them will scare the heck out of you." Del said, "You have an obligation to run after the one that scares you." Idea here is the reason it scares you is because it's new frontier that you haven't explored yet and because of that, then it has the biggest opportunity to be the best idea that you can come up with, the most creative, the most fruitful outcome. One of my favorite examples of this in the corporate world is something that the CDC did years ago. There was a CDC communications group responsible for disaster preparedness. All they had to do is, once a year they send out another notification, "Everybody, hey, make sure you got your batteries, your flashlights, some water on hand," the same thing that they say over and over again. People had already tuned out. So they're trying to think of a way, "Hey, what can we do here that would get people's attention?" What they say they're going to do is they're going to send out a zombie apocalypse preparedness kit. They put together, they read this little graphic novel that told people, "Here's what you need to have on hand." It was the same information: batteries, water, flashlights. Same information, but they had tied it to something fun like let's get ready just in case the zombies come. It was a huge hit. I love that they said, "Well, we sent out a tweet and we waited for a day and nobody got fired." I love that, that everybody was afraid for the job. That's always a good sign that you're onto something. I think it was nine minutes later, their servers crashed because so many people were downloading. It was a huge hit and people loved it. Now, of course, they had people griping. It's the Internet, you're always going to have people griping about stuff, but you got to ignore that and say, "Have we ever come close to this kind of success in awareness?" It was amazing. They had over I think like three billion impressions from a press standpoint, it was a huge win for them. It was because they took a risk and did something different. They followed the fear. Principle 3: there are no mistakes, only gifts. This is what frees an improviser to step out on stage because he/she knows that if you say something that looks like a mistake while it's not, you accept it as a gift. You believe it was supposed to happen, and you accept that and move forward. Now, once you do that, you feel a lot more comfortable stepping out on stage because you can't make a mistake. Now, I love what PBS Digital did here when they were relaunching the brand. What they did is they built into the compensation structure. They said, "Listen, part of your bonus is going to be based on the number of well thought out mistakes that you make, failures that you make, the things that did not work out." They actually made sure people push themselves to get to a point where they created something that just didn't work. The results were through the roof. What they launched, the number of images that they want, it was crazy the success that they had, and it was simply because they created this true belief and this trust that companies could take a risk and they'd actually get paid for it. A very easy way to adopt this at your company is when somebody tries a new campaign and it doesn't work out as intended. You have the CEO or the CMO send out an email and make sure everybody knows, "Hey, this didn't quite work the way we wanted to," but lists the people involved who took the risk and said, "Man, we're really proud of them because they stepped out, they took a risk and we're going to learn something from this." Make sure it's communicated from the top to everyone that when you take a risk and it doesn't work out as planned, you're still safe, your job's safe and actually you're applauded for it. My challenge to you today is to pick one of these improv principles, just one that you want to start with, and then try it. Try it either at the office, or when you go home, or with a friend and just see what it opens up for you and contribute to the gallery. Let us know what you think. Let us know what made you feel uncomfortable. Let us know if you felt a breakthrough. 4. Sharpening Your Listening Skills: Listening is one of the most important components of any human relationship. It helps us feel like we're heard and like the other person cares about what we're saying. Now, one of the best ways to let the other person know that you've heard them is to blend in some of the specific words they used in their conversation. That helps you focus when you walk in to meet with somebody or over Zoom, you know you're looking for those words that they've used so you can repeat them back to them, not the exact phrases, but just blend them into the conversation. To me that helps me focus on, I'm walking in with intent of, I'm going to capture some of the specific words they use and give those back in some way. Before I sit down and meet with anybody, I go in there thinking I want to be a good steward of this person's time and attention span, and I want to leave that meeting with them feeling that way. I want them to feel like that was time well spent, I wouldn't mind meeting with that guy again. That's the outcome I envision before I sit down, and that gets my intent heading in the right direction. I also want to approach it like a servant and say, "I want to give more to this relationship than I take." Same thing at the meeting, I will have specific questions. I'll write down my questions beforehand, but I also want to look for ways that I can help them, the ways that I can add value to the relationship. So I'm not just taking, but I'm also offering something as well. I do do a little homework and if I haven't met the person before, check out their LinkedIn page, get an idea of who they are, how they're measured on success so I can anticipate some things I can offer when I sit down and meet with them, and then I know what to listen for. With so much of our communication happening just with only the written word in Slack and email texts, it's really easy to be misunderstood. When things get a little tense, man, just stop and don't reply. Pick up the phone and say, "Look, can we talk? Can we get on Zoom and talk this out? I just want to make sure I understand where you're coming from." Because then you can see their nonverbals, you can hear a little bit more in their tonality and read so much more from that. Also, I think when we get face to face, even it is over Zoom, we're a little more human, we communicate a little bit more, in a more human way with a little bit more compassion, so it's going to make that conversation easier. You're going to notice pretty quickly we're just making a couple of simple changes to how you listen. You're going to see a difference in response from people and that's going to lead to a difference in how you get assistance at the office, how you get people to come on board and say, "All right, I'm willing to get behind you because you showed me respect and honor." 5. Building Rapport and Trust: This is where it all comes together, building trust. Without trust, nothing happens. There's this facade where it looks like something is happening because that's where we would go to an office, we work together, we know we have to act like we're getting along. What that looks like is people saying absolutely or being in a meeting and say I'd like to build on what Jerry said and then completely tear the idea down. Once you leave that meeting and everybody has been nodding their heads and saying absolutely, nothing happens, and the reason that nothing happens is because there's no trust. Let's get back to thinking about how we really have true connections with people, and we build trust as it is just politely agreeing. The best time to build trust is when you start a new job, or a new position, or a new role, or even on a new project you can use that as a great way to open doors and get in and build trust. You're going to have to interact with people, think about all the different groups you need to interact with. If you're in marketing, you definitely need trust for sales, PR, legal, just map out all the people you're going to have to deal with and go meet with them ahead of time before you need them. Reach out then understand, let me know what the guard rails are, what are the things that you've usually bumped into with people who had my role in the past? How can we avoid these going forward? Understand how they're measured on success and what their priorities are, keep that with you and you got to be genuine with this, of course. But think about ways that you can contribute to their role or how can I find a way to amplify what they do or help them get a win. I'm not saying do their job for them, I'm just saying be considerate of what they're doing and show that you care and offer some ideas on what you could do to help support them. Let's say you're a content marketer, you want to build a relationship with public relations because you're going to want to get an advanced copy of the press release. People in PR are very guarded about that and won't want to pass it out until it's approved by legal, which is actually 15 minutes before the press release goes across the wire, go build that trust and earn that trust upfront. One thing is very important, you should have learned this in kindergarten is if you make a mistake, own up to it fully. Go in there and say, you know what? You're right, I should have done this. I said I would, I didn't or I made a mistake, I should have got this approved. Own up to it fully, no excuses just own up to it fully. That goes so far into building trust and rebuilding trust, and then find a way to make amends. See what you can do to try to make this up versus just saying, Hey, I'm sorry, let's move forward and forget about this. You want to show that you're willing to put a little work into the relationship. I always feel flattered when somebody meets with me and they've done a little homework. They've checked out LinkedIn, maybe they've googled me and they know a little bit about my background. It just makes me feel like, Wow, they've pulled a little planning into this and it makes me feel respected. I think that's a good idea. Now, of course, you don't want to be too creepy, you don't want to be a stalker about this, but just find some stuff particularly if it's in the professional, if it's an award they want, or if they have a common interest. You stumble across that they like hiking particularly if it's on LinkedIn, there's an expectation of, Hey, I'm sharing this with my professional community. I think it shows respect and it really changes the relationship at the very beginning. After I meet with somebody, I like to follow up with a thank-you note and thank them for their time, and so I'll send an email. This is another opportunity to repeat some of the same words they used with you and that makes them feel heard. That's a good place to set your intention, Hey, I'm going to meet with this person and I know afterward I'm looking for maybe something that we joked about that I can include in my follow-up email to them. Again, a piece of information I can try to find for them that shows I'm willing to put some effort into this relationship. When you share something like that, it makes a person feel appreciated. That goes a long way toward building a relationship and building trust. 6. Final Thoughts: Thank you very much for taking this class. I really appreciate the time. I hope you have fun with these ideas. I hope these ideas make you feel more comfortable and help you strengthen connections and reach out and build new connections, and I hope they help you with your career. Give us input. I'd love to hear how you apply this. I'd love to hear your spin on things. Just share with us in the gallery what worked for you, maybe what still feels uncomfortable, and I'll chime in and give you my two cents, and looking forward to learning from what you have to share.