Got Improv Culture?

Can your team jam?

Here are a few of the top characteristics of an improvisational culture. How many does your organization have?

  1. Clear goals, great training & flexible plans – allow people to use talent and goal focus to grab opportunities of the moment
  2. Moments of “group flow” – that particular state of heightened consciousness in the team that fosters great creativity and very high engagement(1)
  3. Innovation emerges from the bottom up – often from random encounters with potential customers asking radical questions
  4. Collaborative creativity feels like “jamming” (2)– it’s energizing, unpredictable and produces great results
  5. New ideas valued – even those that aren’t used are seen as positive contributions to the group
  6. Yes and” practiced – rather than criticizing ideas and practices and build on them. No wasting time and energy with blaming. Jump straight to what you do like about a plan and guiding it in a positive direction with positive questions about how to make it fit certain criteria, etc. (3)

Here’s the good news. Cultures can become more improvisational.
Whether it’s a slow change over time, or a rapid transformation (with the right guidance).

(1) Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, University of Chicago Psychologist

(2) John Kao, Harvard Professor

(3) Bob Faw, author of this blog

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture Improvement, Motivation, Solution-focus

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6 Comments on “Got Improv Culture?”

  1. Toby Elwin Says:


    I like the idea of improvisation – and it hits the resilience/flexibility thoughts on organization strategy. As someone with a music major, I often think about how jazz (in particular) supports and guides improvisation. There are rules and there are boundaries, but space is given to work out an idea as it happens.

    I’ve been at many a performance where a soloist is encouraged to continue and take another chorus or two and work out his idea. The band hears what the musicians is trying to convey and pushes them forward through the band (and audience) support, there soloist and band are listening, encouraging, and pushing each other to innovate and explore.

    The best sample of this is Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” probably the most brilliant study of leadership and teamwork ever recorded and the back story is a powerful metaphor.

    Your 6 examples give a good space to bring this from the space of the stage to organization – another form of the stage.

    Good post, thanks.

    • Bob Faw Says:

      Toby, I like your relating it to the soloist improvising in a jazz band – “…pushes them forward through the band (and audience) support, there soloist and band are listening, encouraging, and pushing each other to innovate and explore.”

      The concepts of this kind of deep listening to each other, supporting the exploration, and even pushing for innovation, are all key to an improv culture that can innovate, adapt and entice the people who fit the best to work there.


  2. Toby Elwin Says:

    By the way, love Csikszentmihalyi’s books and thoughts.

    He brought the suggestion to me to read poems before going to sleep. Reading, and learning to read, poetry is a great way to explore a new facet, cadence, and wordplay, while turning off the day’s drama.

    I love saying his great Hungarian name at least once a day, just to keep me on my toes.

  3. Bob Faw Says:

    6 people who took the poll said that their organization has all 6 of the Improv Culture characteristics. I’d love to know the 6 companies that are jammin’!

  4. tim smith Says:


    Csikszentmhihalyi’s work is a great reference. Your checklist provides a simple way to constantly measure performance. Thanks for providing these ideas.


  5. Bob Faw Says:

    It’s my pleasure, Tim. Thank you for your post.

    I find that these are good signs of a healthy organization that can flex as it needs to.

    In addition, Core purpose and key Guiding Operating Principles (as opposed to policies) help organizations reach this stature.

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