IA Innovation: Team Dynamics Improved by Improv

Have you ever been to a comedy show? It may have been stand-up, improv, or even a funny play. You probably remember your cheeks hurting from smiling so much and being surprised how quickly the comedians could think on their feet during the performance. You may also be surprised to hear that the skills required for improv are very similar to the skills necessary for your everyday 9-5. For this team building activity you are going to get the opportunity to get in touch with your funny bone.

IA Innovation is an improv group that identified a demand in the corporate world for the skills necessary to perform great improv. Founded in 1998 by Norm Laviolette and Chet Harding in Boston, it has grown into a successful enterprise working with countless organizations. The facilitators of IA Innovation travel all over the country, and sometimes globe, to teach improv in a fun environment.

Do you always find your employees messing around? Thinking that a workshop filled with laughter may fit your company best? Get their energy out with some quick thinking improv. IA Innovation has numerous programs that can fit the needs of any type of firm or department. All relating back to improv! They have a strict no power points, no group hugs and no trust falls policy. So you can rest assured that there will be no unnecessary boredom while building these soft skills.

IA Innovation Highlights

IA Innovation will make it happen. After all, they are improvisers at heart. By nature they are willing to help design an event or a program that will give your employees an evening they won’t ever forget. Whether that is enjoying some improv or getting on stage yourself, the facilitator’s ability to be flexible gives you no excuse to not check them out!

  • Tons of programs! Looking for a program that specifically fits your needs? They have quite a few ranging from leadership building to presentation skills.
  • IA Innovation will personalize a private improv comedy show for you, performed by the improv professionals. If participants are looking to watch the masters at work, you are given the opportunity to watch the actors perform a hilarious scenes as it specifically relates to your company.
  • While IA Innovation does have two locations in Boston they can come visit your location. From Ireland to your very own conference room, they can set up a stage.
  • Practice skills that directly relate to a healthy and productive work environment like presentation skills, trust, communication, and listening via improv exercises.
  • Catering components are offered if visiting one of their two Boston locations.
  • If you are looking to do a show at one of their locations they can host 6 to 350 people. However, improv programs can be performed for groups up to 8,000 people at off site locations!
  • Programs can be customized to fit half or full day events. However, a typical team building event is 2.5 hours. This is of course dependent on the size of your group
  • IA Innovation has clients that book six months in advance and others that ask for availability the next day. The sooner the better, but they are excellent at improvising if it is last minute.

Team Building Activities at IA Innovation

Unsure if improv is the right fit for your company? Not completely sure what improv team building would look like? IA Innovation recognizes this is often a challenge in their industry and can provide you plenty of information on what the program will look like.

  • Signature Program – Their most popular program will take participants through improv exercises focusing on communication and listening skills.
  • The Comedy Show Experience – While this show may not make your co-workers funnier it can help build teamwork, trust, and collaboration with one another.
  • Master Presenter Challenge – Is your sales department looking for a workshop? Does your team lack the ability to think quick on their feet in front of clients? This program can benefit those participants! Work on presenting topics given by the instructor while you have to think quick on your feet!
  • Leadership Cascade – “Leaders are not born, they are made” said NFL coach Vince Lombardi. With this program improv facilitators will teach you why leadership is all about communicating and listening to your team.
  • And much more!

IA Innovation Photos

Check out photos of their two facilities in Boston, Improv Asylum and Laugh Boston. Get an inside look on where you may be enjoying an evening with your coworkers.

Interview with Bob Melley, Managing Director at IA Innovation

Hear my interview with Bob Melley, the managing director at IA Innovation. We talk about the different customization options with IA Innovation and why improv has been such a successful team building option for companies.

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Interview Transcript

Kristen: Hi, my name is Kristen and I am here with Team Building Hero. We have Bob from Innovation and he is the managing director. He is going to answer a few questions for us about the different team building activities at Innovation. Thank you for joining me Bob.Bob: My pleasure, thank you very much. I just want to say that the name of the company is IA Innovation and I am happy to be here.

Kristen: IA Innovation, awesome. Can you first tell us how IA Innovation got started?

Bob: Yea, it really came from a concept that Norm Laviolette and Chet Harding started in 1998. Both were performers in improv comedy and they thought it would be a wonderful idea to start a theater in a basement on Hanover Street on the north end of Boston. That was done in 1998. Really like any business has grown to what today is a multi million dollar business from just a simple idea and a dream.

Kristen: That is awesome. So some of the programs that you offer at IA Innovation, they are specifically for team building. Can you tell us about some of those team building events?

Bob: Sure, we have a unique approach and method to team building and communication and listening programs. Where we teach the tools and techniques of improv to help folks communicate and listen more effectively, work together as a team, and build off the ideas of others. Certainly think fast on their feet to name just a few. Every one of our programs is customized. So in addition to the foundation of what we teach, as I just mentioned, we blend in any theme and/or message that a client wants us to so it is more specific to what they are going through.

Kristen: Awesome, so maybe if it is an international company you may work on international relations? Can you give us some examples of that?

Bob: Yea, really it is all sorts of teams. Whether they are global leaders or sales folk or management. They might want their teams to be able to tell a story more succinctly or work on presentation skills because there are always clients facing…being able to adapt in the moment. So we work on all those different types of things and the way our programs work is interactive so everyone is up and doing and by the nature of that, it really creates a quick team bond in that everyone is pulling for each other…having fun as they learn. It has been quite successful not only for our clients but also for the growth of that particular division.

Kristen: So to be honest, I don’t really know a lot about improv. What I know is like ‘Who’s line is it anyways?’ Is it that sort of set up? Where you give them a topic and employees go out and try to act out a situation? Or do you give them special exercises?

Bob: Yea, we have a variety of programs. One of the programs that we have is called the comedy show experience, that is similar to that. Once they go through what we call our core signature program.

Which consists of a variety of exercises which are designed to help them communicate and listen and trust each other. That is done through simple exercises. Like a story in one word or an electric company where one person starts a word they have in mind, then the next person finishes it. So you really get that listening but it also talks about how that one person that started with that word did not necessarily have what the person finished the word necessarily had. Now they have a bigger and better idea by simply listening. So those are they types of exercises, we break down each exercise as we go. We talk about really what it means and how it is best used in the workplace and how it can transform the workplace.

So getting back to the comedy show experience, the initial part of that program would be those types of exercises designed to teach those tools and techniques but at the end we would break larger teams into smaller teams and ask them to ‘perform’ if you will, a subject given to them in the moment. So it is a lot of fun. There are a variety of different ways we can craft the program but the foundation is always what I just mentioned.

Kristen: Yea, that sounds very challenging to be able to try to finish your co-workers sentences just by listening.

Bob: Exactly, it sounds simple but it is really not. Laughter enters into it pretty quickly but each and every one of those individuals is pulling for the other to come up with an idea and finish that thought and finish the exercise though. You really have to have a heightened awareness of listening. We talk about in the onset of our programs how when somebody is speaking to you, whether it is a superior or a peer, you are generally thinking about how you are going to respond and really missing the message…the bigger and better idea the person is talking about because you are concerned about, ‘How am I going to respond?’ or ‘Will I sound funny?’…‘Will my idea be accepted?’ That is really prevalent in the workplace.

Kristen: Exactly, that is where communication breaks down. We see that being a very important concept with team building, improving communication among employees.

You talked about you could specialize these exercises among the employees if they are in sales or marketing. What if you have a company coming together with people from all different departments. They are not really sure what kind of skills they want to improve, they know they just want to bond everyone. Do you have a special program for them?

Bob: Well our programs do that automatically. So we have worked all across the globe with all sorts of different companies. From the farming industry to engineers, engineering firms to the finance industry. If you take global leaders from those types of organizations who are meeting each other for the first time…they may do the same type of job within the organization just different locations. We do that a lot. Utilizing these exercises and having them participate in those exercises, it really creates that bond right off the bat.

We are also hired for that core program. I don’t want to say for just that core program because it is involved. By teaching the tools and techniques of listening, communicating, trusting, thinking fast on their feet. It immediately creates that bond of putting everybody on the same level. So it is very effective.

Kristen: Yea, definitely. So with these events do you offer any add ons? Like when people come to do an improv session, do you do catering or is it just in the evening? Can they turn it into a holiday party type of event?

Bob: Yea, we have done our share of holiday parties. We do have a food and beverage component to everything that we do if we are available with improv asylum, which is in the north end of Boston. Or our sister venue, Laugh Boston, which is in the seaport district. So we do have that ability. People do take us up on that depending on what they are looking for as far as their agenda is concerned.We have done programs that start at 7:30 in the morning to noon. We have done full day programs, we have done evening programs as well. Not just team building but we add on custom forming. That is a lot of fun, 4 to 5 of our main stage players that perform on stage and improv asylum. We’ll perform a customize show for that particular group using specific information regarding lingo and characters of that organization. Blend that in and really make it that much more specific and hilarious. It is a lot of fun. All that is pre approved of course.

Kristen: Yea, thats really cool. So you can get involved or have a show and dinner for more formal events.

Bob: O absolutely and when you add the show, the private customized performance, on and you go through the training prior, you will have the training program, and then have dinner or a networking event, then have a show…you will see the tools and techniques, the skill set, that you just learned. You will see our performers up on stage and how effective they are. Even though they are making comedy and that’s not what was taught. It is very interesting to see it up on stage in action.

Kristen: That is great, so for these events you host everything from casual/self learning to dinner and a show. What is the min and the max that you can host these shows for?

Bob: We have done it for a program for as little as 6 people in our theaters. The max at improv asylum it would be 200 people. At Laugh Boston it would be 300 to 350. But we have provided programs, as I mentioned earlier, all over the globe and throughout the country. I think our maximum was 8,000. We provided a program for 8,000 employees for a major company. That was over a 2 day period where that group of 8,000 rolled through various break out segments that we did.

Kristen: That is crazy, that is a lot of people to serve.

Bob: Yup, we love it though.

Kristen: So you can go to anyone really in the country it sounds like. Do you do any events at corporate offices or conference rooms?

Bob: Yea we have always joked that we are going to publish a book of the pictures of conference rooms that we have been in…the stage, the look of a conference room. But yea, we travel. We can visit your office and/or conference room or an off site venue in the city or town that you are in. We have done a hotel. We have done programs in Ireland, in particular Dublin. A few famous theaters, as well as london. A very famous theaters in the Victoria Area. We love to get creative. The folks that hire us like to be creative for their team so we will work with you to make sure that venu is as cool as possible.

Kristen: So your home facility, the two that you have in Boston, can you tell us what those two are like? Is it like a comedy club or a large gym maybe? What kind of facility could they expect?

Bob: Yea Improv Asylum in the north end is a 200 seater theater in the rounds so it is very intimate. You are basically right on stage. We do show 7 nights a week. Generally sell out our shows, definitely on the weekends. We do great business during the week. It has a front room and a bar. So we can break out groups and host catered events in that front end. We have our corporate office right across the street. Which is another 7,000 square feet of space to break out folks for the larger groups. Our Laugh Boston seaport is a stand up comedy club but it is probably one of the most beautiful venues in America as it relates to comedy clubs. We do a lot of private event business there. It is situated in the Western Waterfront Hotel in Boston which is in the seaport district. It is connected to the Connection Expedition Center. So it is a hub of activity, it is certainly in the corporate world on the east coast.

Kristen: You mentioned events that are sometimes 2 days long or morning or night, but your average client, how long would you say your events typically run?

Bob: Our core program is about 2.5 hours long. The average for a client is half a day…2.5 hours. But as I mentioned we have done add ons and facilitation sessions. Shared experience role play scenarios. We have brought in and worked with additional folks in the industry where it could be an individual coach or a speaker who has gone through some things that could make him or her really relate to that group as far as motivation is concerned. So there is all different types of programs that we can build but as far as the core program is concerned, it is about 2.5 hours long. Also I want to point out that our programs are very comfortable. We don’t put the spotlight on anyone. We don’t ask them to perform if you will, we are all in this together. We are very adept on reading an audience and bringing out the introvert a little bit but also clamping down on the extrovert. It is all a level playing field where everyone feels comfortable and I think that is an important key to our success.

Kristen: Yea definately, for an introvert who is typically quiet in an office setting this may be a little bit intimidating approach to team bonding but it sounds like you can handle it.

Bob: Yes, no trust falls, no group hugs, we are coming together.

Kristen: That’s great, say I am an HR manager and looking to do an event with IA innovation…I have no idea where to start, your average client, where would you start?

Bob: I would talk with them directly about what they are looking for as far as what their needs are of that team or what they are trying to accomplish. They are usually going through some focus mechanism to make that team to perform better or maybe it is generally just a team building event for fun. So I would really talk to them in depth about what they are looking for. We do have a fairly in depth questionnaire that I will send out to that client that will ask those type of questions. Are there any major changes in the organization that we should know about? Are there things that we should stay away from outside of communication, listening, team building, and adapting to change skills? Is there anything you want us to key on or focus on? We will also do a conference call with the facilitators before the program as well so everyone is comfortable with what is going to conspir and we are all on the same page.

Kristen: Fantastic. So for price range is it flat rate? Or is it after a certain amount it goes up per person? What could they expect price wise?

Bob: We have all different types of levels. The base cost for our core program for a group of 20 – 25 begins at $5,000 for the 2.5 hours. Obviously if there are 50 people the price does not double but it will go up exponentially. We also have a great key note program and that is more geared toward the larger groups…300, 400 people. That is based on price per person and that is anywhere from $90 to $100 per person, so to answer your question that is the base cost for our core program and that is a premium service. We are very very popular and very effective. But we have done programs that range from $5,000 to $50,000 and above depending on what that client wants and what they need. But having said that we will fit any budget as well. We want to make things work.

Kristen: What is included in that base level price?

Bob: That is our core program with instructors, two instructors. They take everyone through those interactive and hands on exercises. It also includes the venue if available here in boston and that is it.

Kristen: Ok, fantastic. So you guys sound like you are doing fairly well. How far should people look to book in advance?

Bob: We will book 3 to 6 months in advance if they can. We will also get phone calls to see if we are available in the next day or two. You know it runs a gamut. We are at the heart improvisers, so if we are available we can turn it around pretty quickly. We have been doing this for a number of years, but the sooner the better is what we say.

Kristen: Great, well do you have anything else to add for the people listening or looking to schedule an event with IA Innovation?

Bob: I would say just go to our site, IAInnovation.com, it lists all the different variety of programs we have and what types of groups they are geared towards. It also has testimonials and references, as well as a couple of videos that we have done. One of the types of challenges in this type of business is that people don’t understand exactly what is going to happen. So this website really helps ease that comfort level. In that we are not asking anybody to perform, it is really a fun, what I call ‘edjutament” program that as you laugh you are also learning at the same time. It is very memorable. That is the concept of ‘yes, and’, it is leaning to bigger and better ideas as we talk about all the time. It really can transform your workplace. We talk about how ‘yes, but…’ is very prevalent today. It really shuts off ideas.

Kristen: Awesome, well thank you so much. It sounds like a very interesting team building event for people to get involved and practice a new skill. Thank you so much for joining us.

IA Innovation Reviews

IA Innovation has an impressive list of clients. With a resume ranging from Google to Red Bull, they are leaders in providing skill based team building opportunities.

“The IA Innovation trainers treated us to a very engaging training session, which struck the right balance of learning and fun. Feedback from the group was overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to working with IA Innovation in the future.” – Jason Hollis, William Fry

“Wow! Your team was GREAT! “Yea, and…” resonated with staff and we are hearing it used daily. We appreciate your team’s enthusiasm in helping us build a culture of excellence.” -Jane Finley, Executive Director, Kaiser Permanente

“The days with IA Innovation have made lasting impressions and the general feedback from the vast majority of participants is that they learned something sustainable for their work and their own professional development. We are deeply convinced that the way IA Innovation has defined to take leadership communication to the next level is unique in its approach and in its sustainable outcome for participants and company. We look forward to continuing our co-operation with IA Innovation. -Joachim Kuss, Zeiss

“We were looking for something unique… a different twist on corporate training. It was the highlight of our sales kick off! Very different from your more traditional corporate training workshops… It was a rousing success.” – John Sutliffe, Vice President of Sales at Virgin Pulse