Thriving in the Unknown: Uniting Improv with Psychological Safety

Improv has gained popularity over the last 20+ years. People enroll in improv classes to improve their public speaking skills, enhance their communication skills,  become more spontaneous, think outside the box, improvise at the top of their intelligence, overcome anxiety, build confidence, and have fun. MBA programs have incorporated improv into their course offerings, and businesses send members of teams with great benefits.  In this blog, Thriving in the Unknown: Uniting Improv with Psychological Safety, we will discuss the tenets of improv and draw parallels between psychological safety and improv.

The Tenets of Improv

Improv, a team sport, relies on each other to co-create and work spontaneously and creatively.  

Agree with Open-Mindedness and Respect:

Embrace a mindset and respect for what your scene partner has created. Acknowledge and accept their contributions.

Make Statements and Contribute Solutions:

Actively listen and participate in the scene by making statements and contributing to the narrative. Be part of the solution versus asking open-ended questions.

No Mistakes, No Failure, Only Opportunities:

Adopt a mindset that frames mistakes as opportunities for discovery. Turn off your pre-judgments and judgments.

Yes…And, Embrace and Expand:

Wholeheartedly agree with your scene partner’s offers and ideas, then spontaneously add to them by contributing your perspective and creativity. Yes…And mentality, where every contribution is valued and built upon. This fosters a culture of positivity, encourages interpersonal risk-taking, and fuels creativity.

For instance: 

Person 1: Have a simple conversation with someone. Convey a statement: “The sun is shining.”

Person 2: Either negate, disagree, or deny.

“Actually, it’s quite cloudy today. I don’t see any sunlight at all.”

Person 1: You will negate, disagree, or deny what person 2 says.

“That’s strange because I can clearly see the sun shining through the clouds. It’s not the brightest, but it’s definitely there.”

If you are going to shoot down an idea, it has nowhere to go.


Move ideas forward!

Person 1: Have a simple conversation with a person. Convey a statement.

“The sun is shining.”

Person 2:  Yes…And

“Yes, and it’s the perfect weather for a picnic in the park. Let’s grab a blanket and some sandwiches and enjoy the sunshine!”

Person 1: Yes…And

“Yes, and we should bring some frisbees and maybe even set up a volleyball game.”


What did you observe and experience between the two different scenes?

The Parallels Between Psychological Safety and Improv

Thriving in the Unknown: Uniting Improv with Psychological Safety

Being Fearless and Courageous:

Confront and overcome fears (of being wrong, judged, making a fool of yourself). Face your fears, loosen your inhibitions, and have some skin in the game! Lean into courage and embrace vulnerability.  Everyone is likely in the same boat!

Trust, Safety, and Support:

The culture fosters the idea that speaking up is safe, taking interpersonal risks, and supporting every other member.


Being willing, open, and receptive to following the follower or having reverse mentorship. Let go of your ego, lower your status, and surrender to the group’s collective wisdom and creativity. Be open and receptive to feedback. Relinquish control and embrace uncertainty.

Setting the Stage and Framing the Work:

Like leaders, the improv teacher provides suggestions, expectations, engagement, guidance, principles, and feedback.

Embracing Failure:

You have permission for dead-end ideas, risk-taking, and learning through accepted risks, mistakes, and failures. In a safe environment, failure is not stigmatized, nor are people pointing fingers, judging, and bullying; mistakes and errors are managed effectively to achieve learning. 

Inviting Participation and Idea-Sharing:

Every voice has value, one voice at a time, turn-taking, give-and-take, and participation.

Embracing Yes, And Culture:

Yes=Unconditional acceptance of an idea. And=You take the idea and build upon it.  This fosters collaboration and keeps scenes/conversations moving forward.

Listening for Understanding:

It requires presence, here and now, undivided attention, mindfulness, and active listening. Listen closely to words, actions, and emotions to understand the context and respond accordingly. You are not listening if you are thinking about what you plan to say next while the person is speaking.

Looking for Killer Ideas and Sharing Ideas:

All voices and ideas are shared, embraced, and valued; none are squashed. The magic exists by putting other’s ideas ahead of your own and embracing the collective ownership of ideas. We must endure the not-so-good ideas to get to the positive ones.

Thinking with Laser Focus:

It elicits divergent (imaginative, supports dissent, and celebrates diverse perspectives) thinking, convergent (analytical, logical, linear) thinking, and lateral thinking (thinking outside of the box = using both divergent + convergent thinking). Making Split Second Decisions and Rapid and Better Decision Making.  


The elements of teamwork include fostering mutual trust and respect, co-creating, making connections, and being spontaneous, adaptable, and agile.


Effective active listening, verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and nonjudgmental communication.


Exploring the tenets of improv and identifying the parallels between improv and psychological safety reveals that both concepts foster a culture of trust, safety, interpersonal risk, and no failure but instead learning opportunities. They each contribute to fostering spontaneity, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Improv encourages individuals to take risks, embrace uncertainty, and support one another in exploring new or divergent ideas—elements that are fundamental to psychological safety. Investing in improv training for your team fosters individual growth and lays the foundation for team-building and a more agile and innovative organization.


Enroll Now

Enroll now in ‘Unlock the Power of Psychological Safety: Build a Fearless Culture‘ and revolutionize your workplace dynamics. Join us to foster trust, innovation, and collaboration. Don’t wait, enroll today!

Recommended Reading

Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The Fearless Organization. John Wiley & Sons.

Laviolette, N. (2017). The Art of Making Shit Up: Using the Principles of Improv to Become an Unstoppable Powerhouse.  

Meet Jodie, your Culture & Transformation Captain. With over twenty years helping people change, facilitating team discussions, building cultures, designing, implementing and teaching classes, your organization is in good hands.