Don't worry if you're not familiar with improv because the following guide will have you leading games like a pro. We’ve included various fun options that suit practically any type of organization, including both in-person and virtual improv games.
Ready to take your team to the next level and have some fun along the way? Let's take a look at the best improv games for team building.
What Are Improv Games?
Improv is a live activity that combines both acting and comedy. The participants don't use a script. Instead, everything is made up on the spot, often starting with a prompt such as an audience suggestion.
As we know it today, improv comedy dates back to the mid-1900s, with the formation of groups such as The Second City, The Committee, and The Compass Players.
There are two types of improv games:
- Short-Form – The participants create quick responses within a structured format, such as a game. The game Scenes From a Hat from the TV show "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" is an example of short-form improv.
- Long-Form -These longer scenes typically involve at least two participants. They often closely resemble sketch comedy. While the participants might get some prompt to start, they're typically left to improvise the bulk of the scene independently.
The most popular type of long-form improv is a structure called the Harold. It consists of three separate improvised scenes which (ideally) connect at the end to create one story. Many episodes of Seinfeld follow this structure.
Why Are Improv Games Great for Team Building?
Don't worry. You’re not trying to turn your team into the next cast of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". Improv games have a history in business training dating back more than 25 years. When your team plays improv games, they'll improve in the following areas.
Improv uses communication to construct a shared but fictional world for the participants. The success of a scene often heavily relies on everyone's shared ability to listen and respond to one another.
Improv helps foster flexible, creative thinking. Interestingly, although creativity is commonly associated with the arts, a type called business improvisation is useful when managing projects, especially long-term ones with unforeseen challenges.
Improv games get pretty silly, and that's a good thing. When a team learns to laugh around one another, they'll feel more comfortable working together and sharing ideas.
Improv games force you to observe other people's behavior. For instance, if you're assigned the role of a cowboy, you'll need to bring that role to life with everything you say and do. Self-awareness is a sought-after characteristic in any organization, as self-aware people understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Improv is all about trusting your partners in a scene. When trust is established among the group members, they'll often become more empathetic to one another. They'll also develop an increased awareness of how their actions affect the group.
Ability to Say "Yes"
Improv is all about accepting what your scene partner does and building on it. Unfortunately, many times in business, turning down suggestions seems like the safer answer. Improv helps team members embrace saying "yes" and learn to love change.
What Are the Best Improv Games for Team Building?
As you'd likely expect from such a flexible art form, you'll find a wide variety of different improv games. Here's a closer look at some of the best ones for business training and team building.
Background Information is a virtual improv game that requires Zoom or a similar video tool. Participants must build a scene based on the crazy Zoom backgrounds they're assigned.
Two to three people can play simultaneously, but the audience size is practically unlimited, making this game entertaining for groups of any size. Here’s how to play.
- To start, arrange the call screen, so each player is prominently featured.
- Next, audience members will submit various Zoom backgrounds. The crazier, the better! Martian landscapes, busy city streets, Spongebob's undersea house, and other zany locales will work great. As the facilitator, you can pick backgrounds randomly or choose the ones you find the most fun.
- With the backgrounds in place, the players must all talk to each other while in character.
- Each person will quickly invent a character and a reason for talking to the others.
For added fun, try adding new backgrounds mid-scene, so the players will have to adjust to their new surroundings quickly.
The game doesn't necessarily need a goal. As the facilitator, you can let the players talk back and forth for a bit until the scene starts to run its course. Try switching in new players, but add them in one at a time, as it's often easier to jump into an existing scene.
The Question Game
The Question Game is a classic improv game that is simple to learn but nearly impossible to master. You can play it either virtually or in person.
The premise is simple. Participants in the scene can only ask questions. The conversation volleys between the players until someone either pauses for too long or accidentally says a statement.
Here's an example of a two-person Question Game:
- "How are you doing?"
- "Why do you want to know?"
- "Why won't you tell me?"
- "Who are you again?"
- "Why don't you recognize me?"
- "Do I know you?"
For an added challenge, you can start the game with a prompt, such as, "The two of you are friends from college who run into each other at a baseball game."
The Question Game requires at least two people, but you can also play improv games like this one with groups. In the group version, everyone takes turns asking questions until only one person remains.
The Problem Solver
The Problem Solver is a popular improv game for team building in the workplace because it works well in either a business or home office environment. You can play it in person, but it's also a fun virtual game because it allows everyone to check out one another's work-from-home setup.
The game requires two players. Here's how to play:
- Player 1 invents a problem. It should be relatable and straightforward but doesn't have to be realistic. For example, "I've run out of fuel for my spaceship."
- Player 2 must then "solve" the problem using any nearby object. They could hold a stapler up their ear and say, "Thank you for calling Interstellar AAA. Can I have your membership number?"
The scene can go back and forth for a while or end after the first solution is presented. The only rule is that Player 1 must accept the solution as workable, but otherwise, the scene can go in any direction.
The Problem Solver encourages quick thinking, creativity, and adaptability. Plus, it helps team members learn to feel comfortable approaching one another when they need help.
Sound Ball is a simple, in-person game that helps people focus while also boosting their energy. It's a great game to play before a long meeting because it gets everyone laughing, loose, and ready to listen.
To play, everyone in the group must stand in a circle. Then, one player is given an invisible ball that they must throw to someone else, who throws it to someone else, and so on.
Yet, there's a twist. The invisible ball makes a sound whenever it's thrown. For example, a player might decide their ball is a "cow ball" that "moos." Now, whenever someone throws the ball, they must make a mooing noise.
Once players grow comfortable throwing one ball, you can introduce others. Soon you'll have players mooing, barking, and making other noises. Games typically start slow and simple before descending into hilarious chaos.
Scenes From a Hat (or Scenes From Chat)
We touched on this game before. It's popular among professional improv comedians but remains simple enough for team building to be an effective improv game.
The game is most commonly played with four players but works with as few as two. It has no limits on audience size. Plus, every member of the audience has a chance to participate.
Before the game begins, you'll elicit suggestions from the audience. Each person should write down a unique scene. Essentially, you want brief premises that involve dialogue. Some examples include:
- "Phrases you can say to your spouse but not your boss."
- "Rough drafts of famous movie lines."
- "Rejected names for restaurants."
- "Things you don't want to hear over the airline intercom."
If you're playing in person, everyone should write their scenes down on pieces of paper. You'll collect the papers in a container. Then, you'll draw scenes randomly.
The players then step forward when they have an idea for how to perform the scene. Players don't have to step forward every time, and more than one player can perform a set together.
Keep in mind that this game is relatively dependent on players who can deliver one-liners and otherwise make up jokes. It's often a great choice if your organization is filled with creative people.
“Scenes from a Chat” follows the same basic format, only it takes place over teleconference software. Audience members submit their scenes via direct message to the person running the game. Many add-on tools are available to help you organize and randomize the suggestions.
Meeting Quirks is a fun, office-themed variation of Party Quirks, a classic improv game. It requires a few players and works with an audience of any size.
The game takes place during a fake meeting on a real Zoom call. Before arriving at the meeting, each player is assigned a weird and wacky personality quirk. Then, they'll need to act out their peculiarity during the session.
One player isn't assigned a trait. Instead, they're the host of the meeting. They greet each new arrival and attempt to conduct the session. Conducting the meeting is just an excuse for everyone to interact. At the end of the meeting, the host then attempts to guess each person's quirk.
Personality quirks should be irreverent but straightforward. Some ideas include:
- A confused senior citizen attempted to call her grandchild but wound up in the company meeting instead.
- An inept corporate spy is trying to steal company secrets.
- A young child discovers the meeting while their parent is out of the room.
- Someone has been possessed by an ancient ghost that doesn't understand technology.
The game is usually more entertaining if you set it up so that the audience can see each person's quirk when they first arrive at the meeting.
Line, Please is a funny game that you can play both online and off. It requires at least two players and an audience of any size. Everyone in the audience can participate.
The game starts with two players acting out any common scenario. You can even make it work-related, such as two people arriving at the copy machine simultaneously.
As the two people develop the scene, they can be interrupted at any point by the moderator yelling out, "Line, Please!" Then, the person who was talking must suddenly read a pre-written line, and the scene must continue based on whatever odd thing was just said.
The crazy lines are written by the audience members, who send them to the moderator via private message before the game starts.
Some versions of the game allow anyone in the audience to stop the scene by shouting, "Line, Please!" Keep in mind that this rule can cause chaos when many people are watching.
Are you and your team ready for some improv? These classic games are sure to have your team laughing and learning. Organizations of all types and sizes have successfully implemented improv into their training program, and this unique art-form can benefit your organization, too.
When you play improv games, everyone in your team wins with increased productivity, a more supportive workplace, and improved problem-solving.