Company Culture

Your company culture is not just fun and games.

Lots of people, including us, are talking a LOT about “corporate culture” these days.

Without understanding some basic things, it can get twisted into something dangerous, and possibly outright wrong. Is “fitting in” to company culture important? Or does “fitting in” become its own culture?

This Bloomberg article, for example, talks about companies who are interviewing and hiring based on concepts that are beyond the qualifications of the candidates. The focus of these HR groups, aside from trying too hard to be cool and hip (“Star Wars vs Star Trek”) seems to be weighted toward a “will they fit in?” bias. And that can absolutely lead to real bias. Highly skilled interviewers can certainly get a feel for how a candidate might fit in, but poorly-skilled interviewers – and teams who get to interview candidates, can easily fall back on racial, gender and cultural stereotypes to make decisions.

In our own company, we have enjoyed the luxury of promoting people to our professional team from our Farm Team, a “minor-league” team of people in our classes. This means we’ve never had to have an audition to “cast” people for our mainstage shows. (Some CSz groups do have auditions; the situation and need varies from city to city.)

Unlike some of the companies in the Bloomberg article, we are looking for people who bring something to the team that we don’t already have – it could be skills and talents or it could be more diversity or it could be both. The Farm Team gives us the time and opportunity to truly understand what a candidate is offering; we also get to see if they show up on time, commit to the long term, smell good and play well with others. We don’t require that they are just like the other members of the team, but a demonstrated capacity to live our values is critically important. This sometimes brings us nice people who are, perhaps, slightly less talented than other people out there. Our company has the ability to train the talent. We can’t necessarily make better people. We’ll err on the side of choosing good people and trusting that our team will bring out and/or enhance their talents.

Yes, we still want people who will “fit in”. We also want people who will change us, challenge us and make us better. We just want them to show up on time, support their teammates, use personal hygiene and understand the long game – the mission. Most of all, we want people who will live and communicate our company’s values.

Blogger and Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin got it just about right: company culture is not whether you have beer blasts or Nerf-gun fights at work: it’s about values.

“Your company’s culture is three big things:

  1. Your values – those you state with words and those you exhibit through your actions
  2. Your mission & vision – the goal you’re driving toward and the force behind that goal
  3. Your hiring, firing, and promotion criteria – the reasons you bring people onto the team, the reasons you let them go, and the reasons you promote/reward them”

The improvisation mind-set helps support these cultural attributes in many ways.

  • We help surface values and their attributes
  • We teach skills that allow people to understand their co-workers
  • We teach skills that make people better co-workers
  • Through jolts, we help people find connections with each other
  • Through jolts, we help people realize the effects of their actions
  • We show the power of a culture of celebrating victories
  • We empower leaders with new skills and outlooks
  • We help people realize that “it’s not about me”
  • We help people find fun in their work
  • We create a “we can always be better” mindset

Zip-lining and bowling with your co-workers can be fun. Applied Improvisation workshops can be even more fun and create lasting value in supporting your company culture.

We have to live our own values and culture before we can help with yours. And we do that, to the best of our abilities. We truly believe in what we do, and that it can make your company better.

Your company culture is more than fun and games.

Whose Job is it Anyway?

“Nobody told me.”

Hearing that phrase from an employee or associate can be a little hard on a person. When your company communicates in meetings, via e-mail, in forums, on a website and in other materials, it’s a little disheartening to know that the resources weren’t used.

When talking about employee engagement, most thought leaders focus on management’s responsibility.  What does management need to do to increase employee commitment and excitement?

  • Clear vision, mission and strategy
  • Communication
  • A chance for employees to make progress
  • Pleasant work atmosphere
  • Interesting work and challenges
  • A sense of team
  • Participation in the outcome

You can do all of those things in your company – make all of them available to your people, and still not get to where you need to be.

Your people need to do some of the wagon-pulling to get to a state of employee engagement.

Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement for Everyone: 4 Keys to Happiness and Fulfillment at Work, blogs that a great deal of the responsibility for employee engagement falls on the employee side. Employees need to:

  • Partner with their bosses
  • Identify and focus on areas that matter to them most
  • Be mindful of what their companies are already doing to communicate and drive engagement

And here comes the sales pitch.

Applied Improvisation training can support all three of those employee-side drivers. Our training humanizes participants, allowing them to become more than job descriptions to each other. We lead them to discoveries about each others’ skills and interests – even to their own skills and interests. Every well-executed AI training increases mindfulness – of our effects on others, on how we communicate, on how we listen and how we relate. Once people have fun together, it’s hard to use the phrase, “It’s not my job.” Our training makes engagement more likely.

“Everyone should have “driving positive engagement” as part of their job description.”

Here is Kevin’s blog piece.


Patrick Short is not a sole practitioner. His company, CSz-Portland has over 40 part-time employees; people get paid – in an industry (improv performance) where that’s rare. Half of our founding members from 1993 are still with the team – that’s astounding. He also coaches U-14 girls soccer. On the LSC Roaring Lions, player engagement is definitely a partnership – and our winning record over the last few years shows how well Applied Improvisation training works.




Engaged Employees Save Money

Fully engaged employees. It’s a dream for companies, right? A more pleasant workplace, fewer problems, better delivery of products and services and happier customers – these are all things we know can come from having our people completely “on board”.

Those things are all very pleasant, and may result in higher profits. Here are some ways that employers can actually benefit monetarily from engaged employees:

  • Employees with a strong emotional connection to their companies give more – sometimes far more discretionary effort to their jobs.
  • Likewise, engaged, thriving employees have fewer health problems and therefore lower healthcare costs to their employers. Compared with their struggling/suffering counterparts, they have 46% fewer unhealthy days as a result of physical or mental illness, are 39% less likely to be diagnosed with a new disease in the next year, and are 43% less likely to be newly diagnosed with anxiety and depression. These numbers add up to big savings for companies’ bottom lines in terms of productivity and medical costs.

Engagement ties to well-being, which ties to healthcare costs – with Affordable Care Act compliance looming (now set for 2015), EVERY large corporation is looking to save health costs because they’ll be paying for it.

Interesting. We assume that Applied Improvisation training helps engage employees. They learn to listen more actively, support each other, accept each others’ strengths and weaknesses, take competent risks and minimize the negative effects of mistakes. It’s good stuff.

So how does Applied Improvisation training help save you money?

We’re going to play some numbers games here.

  • An average employee (60k/year, say) is about a $250 loss for 1/2 a day of work taken to go to the doctor, fill a prescription, take a sick day, or even an “I don’t want to be here” day. For 100 employees, one half day taken per year costs the employer $25,000.
  • How much do we charge for our training? It varies, but a half day of applied Improv training for 100 people might cost $3000 to $5000, depending on the situation, goals, expenses, etc. In some cases it might be a little more; with fewer employees, it might be less.
  • If all of those employees took ONE less half sick day during the next year, that would mean a net savings for your company of $20,000 to $22,000.

Doesn’t training that saves you money and makes everyone happier sound like a good deal? It’s for real.

We had our eyes opened and our minds expanded reading this poll from Gallup.

We’ll talk more in upcoming posts about real savings in employee acquisition, engagement and retention.

Patrick Short (@patrickshort4) hasn’t had so much as a cold since 2005 because he has so much fun applying improvisation to business.

Courtney Pong (@courtneypong) works at, plays and teaches with ComedySportz-San Jose and is determined to share the benefits of Applied Improv and happy, healthy employees with everyone on the planet.