Case Study: How the Three Pillars of Improv™ helped the American Red Cross


I want to start by saying I was honored to be invited to present a teambuilding workshop to the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois earlier this week. On a personal level, I was excited to work with the Red Cross. I’ve always been a huge fan of the work they do and I’m humbled by their mission to make the lives they touch better in times of emergencies. While I know what I did pales in comparison, I’m glad I was able to give them a ray of sunshine in a dark and stormy hurricane season.

When I sat down a few months ago with Dawn Breen, Regional Volunteer Services Officer for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, we discussed what the American Red Cross was looking to achieve by partnering with ImprovThis. The key takeaways from that conversation formed the direction for what would eventually turn into the workshop ImprovThis presented earlier this week.

Designing around pain points:

The Red Cross had a few opportunities for growth they were looking to address. First, this region covers a large geographic area and they have staff and volunteers spread out across multiple offices. Their quarterly meeting presents a relatively rare opportunity which brings everyone together in a single location. The Red Cross wanted ImprovThis to create a feeling of everyone being one big team and to break down the barriers that the physical distance between the offices creates.

Second, we knew this time of year is a busy season for bad weather and disasters. The Red Cross asked ImprovThis to focus on light-hearted exercises and to “Bring The Fun!” The goal was to create a memorable experience where the participants would feel motivated and encouraged to use the tools they learned in the workshop once they return to their home offices.

Of course, everything was not going to be just fun and games. The Red Cross Leadership Team planned to present the results from the most recent Engagement survey during this meeting. They wanted to get everyone ready and excited to offer input on what initiatives could be taken to improve the survey scores over the coming year. With this in mind, they asked ImprovThis to create an environment where the staff and volunteers would feel creative and ready to think of out-of-the-box solutions.

Designing the solution:

After our initial conversation, Dawn and I landed three high-level goals for the teambuilding workshop:

  • Creating a closer bond between people who may not work together on a regular basis
  • Working across the organization’s departments to problem solve together
  • Instilling a feeling of empowerment, value, and appreciation in employees

With these goals as the starting point, we worked together to design a custom workshop for the Red Cross that fit into the meeting’s time constraints and delivered superior results. First, we focused on activities which would get the team up to speed on the Three Pillars of Improv™ as quickly as possible. Then I suggested several exercises that would have everyone interacting with people they may not normally interact with.  While all that was happening, there was a considerable weight put on “Bring The Fun!” because we were focused on the staff and volunteers building positive relationships with their teammates.

Our solution:

We decided that ImprovThis would facilitate six activities for the teambuilding workshop. We’d begin with some physical and voice warm-up exercises which participants could use to improve their effectiveness in public speaking. These warm-ups set the tone for the workshop by being fun and goofy.

The next section of the workshop looked at teambuilding and increasing the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) of the participants. The activities in this section trained the participants on how to use the Three Pillars of Improv™ to create stronger connections with their teammates. The discussion after each exercise provided examples of how they could use each pillar in their everyday life.

Some of the exercises were done in pairs and others had them working in small teams. Before each exercise, they were instructed to seek out people they may not normally interact with. Each of these exercises focused on at least two of the three goals Red Cross had set for the workshop including:

  • How to use the teambuilding skills to create stronger connections across teams
  • The importance of listening to understand before talking to be understood
  • Finding ways to work together to find creative solutions for difficult problems

Success Story:

Unfortunately, this team meeting was scheduled a few days after hurricane Florence made landfall in the Carolinas and required a response from the Red Cross. Even as many of their teammates were deployed for disaster relief, those who stayed behind to run the offices came together in downtown Chicago for their quarterly meeting.

At the beginning of the workshop, some individuals expressed a concern that they were going to get stuck doing exercises like “Now… act like a tree!” But as soon as the warm-up exercises kicked in, so did the fun and those fears quickly evaporated. (As a side note, no one had to act like a tree at any time during the workshop.)

Everyone was very involved throughout the workshop’s activities. The discussions that followed each exercise had an energy that was electric and contagious. The quantitative feedback from the participants paints a broad picture of how they felt about the workshop:

  • How helpful were the Improv activities in bringing the workshop’s content to life?
    4.73 points out of 5 possible
  • How likely are you to apply the concepts taught in the ImprovThis workshop?
    4.64 points out of 5 possible

The verbatim comments from the post-workshop survey help build the full picture of the success of this teambuilding workshop:

Fantastic experience. Stimulated great interaction and thought on how to communicate differently. – Mark B.

I really enjoyed the exercises and appreciated the fresh and interactive approach. This is just what we needed – thankful for the very memorable experience. – Erin C.

It was energetic and fun; allowed for learning + reflecting in a very positive way. Also encouraged working with people I may not have interacted with before or on a regular basis. – Emily B.

I highly recommend to anyone who works on a team! – Hannah M.

Before we could call the day a full success, we have to take a look at the effect the workshop had on the roundtable sessions. Remember, after the teambuilding exercises the Red Cross Leadership Team had work to do. They hosted several breakout sessions around areas the engagement survey results called attention to. The creative mindset the ImprovThis workshop cultivated lead the way for the roundtable discussions to be very effective in their brainstorming. As a result:

These roundtables were very successful. The ImprovThis teambuilding exercises helped bring the staff together. We came out of the discussions with some great ideas that may not have come to light without the tools the team learned in the workshop. – Dawn Breen.

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What sets ImprovThis apart from the rest

Other companies who do improv training may do a great job of entertaining you and your team with a funny show. Often corporate training is a side business compared to their theater shows and comedy classes. We will be entertaining as facilitators, don’t you worry. But our focus is on helping you build a positive, creative, and passionate corporate culture.

At ImprovThis our sole mission is to create fun, hands-on workshop style training sessions to build closer, more collaborative teams. We also focus on working with your team so these skills are implemented after the workshop and provide tools to ensure the learning becomes part of the culture.

To learn more about ImprovThis or to schedule a time to talk to us, check us out at:

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Steve Duberchin
Steve Duberchin
President, CEO of ImprovThis -
Steve earned his MBA from DePaul University and has worked at Fortune 50 and Ad Age 50 companies. However, he found his true passion when he took his first improv class at the Second City Training Center in 2002. Since then he has focused on training people in communication and leadership skills through the use of the "Three Pillars of Improv". He worked with countless teams instructing them in how to communicate more effectively, build closer knit teams, grow their emotional intelligence, and create a positive corporate culture. In his spare time, he still performs short-form improv on a regular basis.