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What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree

By: Esther Hudson // October 31, 2016

This month we are doing a series on Collaboration, the calibrated process of building as a team. It occurs when multiple minds work together to generate ideas, and then take action to realize a shared goal. We’ll be publishing a few posts from several members of our team who have chosen an aspect of Collaboration to elaborate on. This is part two in that series; read the first installment here.

What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

It’s not the first idea that matters, but the second.


Five years ago I took my first course in improvisational theatre at Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, Alberta Canada. My fascination with improvisation went beyond my interest in Drama – the major of my first degree. It was because I heard of the application of this brand of theatre to organizational leadership. Apparently, the principles of great leadership and Improv are the same and encouraging better leadership in organizations is a passion of mine.

It is nothing short of amazing to watch a group of actors create a theatre piece that is both funny and emotionally engaging right before your eyes with absolutely no preparation. It seemed impossible. I soon learned that it is possible for everyone to learn how to do this. All it takes is adhering to some very simple and very powerful principles of collaboration and teamwork.

The first principle I learned is ‘Accept all Offers’. This seems crazy but imagine an empty stage and two actors. Neither they nor we know who they are or where they are. There are no sets, no costumes and no script. One says to the other. “It’s a beautiful day isn’t it? I heard that there is a lake over there behind the trees where you can use a canoe at no cost. Would you like to go and try one out?” It’s a great offer. As an audience we are wondering what comes next? We want the second actor to say “Yes – And add something interesting like “I think there is an island not too far that we could explore. A canoe would be fun.” The actors are off to an adventure and as an audience we are excited about what is going to happen. We want to know more about who these people are. Are they skillful or bumbling? Will they make it to the island and what will happen if they do? What will happen if they don’t? Will this be a mystery or comedy? A witty satire that is a commentary on a current issue or are we going to be entertained with crazy slapstick?

If instead of accepting the initial offer, the second actor says, “No, I can’t swim and am really afraid of tippy canoes” the scene grinds to quick and boring halt. If this pattern of ‘No I don’t think so’, or even if we hear the all too common ‘yes but….’ the scene either stops or inches forward at a slow and increasingly frustrating pace. We very soon stop listening and welcome any distraction as we wait for the torture to be over.

The only edge you have in the marketplace today is the ideas of your people. Sparking innovation in the workplace to create solutions faster and better than your competitors. The days of a few smart people simply doesn’t cut it with the complexity and speed of change that we have now. It takes my ideas giving you other and better ideas that spark someone else’s. The first idea is unlikely to be the best. Give it to someone else who accepts the offer and says ‘yes and…’. Adding to it and changing it up in a way that takes some part of the idea and builds on it making it even better. When we put two or three other people into this dynamic, we create an unlimited potential for creativity and innovation.

What is wonderful about collaborating using “Accept all Offers” and “Yes And” is that it is not the first idea that has to be stunning. It is really what comes next that matters. Just like in our little scenario about the canoe. It is the second idea that matters. It’s what you do with my ideas that makes the difference to both of us. I don’t have to be a creative genius, if I have you as a partner. We can keep moving forward with the best of each of our ideas. If we can manage to do this we will reach the island. And maybe, just maybe it is an enchanted island!