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What's the Game? Getting Clear On What to Expect from Each Other. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Leave the drama at home–operating as a team is about defining the rules of the game so that you know what to expect from each other.


The secret to entertaining improvisational theatre is highly developed collaborative teamwork. There is no planning, just quick responses to “offers” made by fellow actors. It takes being in the moment and paying attention to the “game”. In improvisation, the “game” can take many forms. It can, for example, be about genre. Are we in space, caught in a time warp of a dangerous sort? Is this a mystery melodrama with romance twist played by larger than life villains and victims? With literally no planning actors can create comedy and pathos through highly honed teamwork.  

To the audience, it seems like a magical creation. What appears free flowing and without structure actually is possible only by adherence to clear rules and expectations, or a team operating agreement. Some of the critical ones are:

  1. Accept all offers and share control. Go with the idea offered and build on it.
  2. Be altered – Pay attention to your partner and react to what they are doing and feeling.

In the world of collaborative team work, we call what these rules create is an operating agreement. An effective team operating agreement sets out the rules the team members are required to adhere to in order for collaboration to flourish. They define critical individual team member behaviour and also required team practices. They define the kind of game that the team will play and how the members of the team will work together to create results.

Some of these “game rules” are directed at how work is done, kind of like the “Accept all Offers” rule in improvisation. These can include team meeting protocols (when, how and why we meet), problem solving practices (what the process is and what data is required from who to develop solutions), decision making authorities (who can make what decision, when and where), and specific individual responsibilities and accountabilities that are clear, measurable and agreed upon. A team operating agreement can also include practices that are more of the type of the “Be Altered” rule that address the human side of collaboration. These can include what integrity looks like (e.g. honesty, respect, trustworthiness, caring, fairness), team learning (forgiveness for errors and how to recover and learn from mistakes), and importantly – communication protocols regarding listening, feedback and confidentiality.   

Developing these operating agreements as a team means that team members are free to collaborate and focus on the real “show” of creating results. Melodrama and fantasy are great games for entertainment. We sure don’t want them at the work!