First 50 Days
DAY 43: Launch. (Mar 23)Written by Matt Elwell, CPLP
This was the day of my first Full Company meeting, something that I planned purely on faith in the books I've been reading. When you're a company our size, it just seems like par for the course that you get everyone in one room once in a while. So that's what I did. No one was banging down my door asking for more cross-departmental communication, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
And, I am officially happy to call it a success! For the first time I can remember we had (minus a few absences) everyone from our Front of House Staff, our Exec Team, our Tech/Creative Staff, and our Ensemble in one room. We started with some icebreakers/teambuilding. (Watching our non-improviser staff play games with our professional improviser ensemble was awesome.)
Then, I talked about what we wanted to stress in the upcoming months. I did get some positive feedback on keeping my messaging simple and targeted. I basically boiled down what I wanted to happen into three simple questions that our people could ask our customers. These questions each emblemize a major initiative we're working on, but the question serves as a "tag," that keeps a big idea/process in a neat little conceptual package.
After all these announcements (I kept my talky-talk to like 15 minutes), we took a full company photo. Here is a copy done by local photographer Lyndsay Williams!
DAY 42: BuildCSz Dayz (Mar 22)Written by Matt Elwell, CPLP
Today I was reminded of those halcyon days when we built out our current theater. (Okay, it was only a couple years ago, but still.)
Anyway, a friend of mine who donated to our build-out is moving away and today was our goodbye lunch. We went to Margies and on Montrose and had jumbo sundaes -- ah, the things you can eat when you're a grown up! (That's what sh-- oh, never mind.)
The lunch made me remember the struggle to get our 929 W Belmont space open, to move our offices from Foster and Ravenswood while moving our show from Chicago and Halsted. So many ensemble members were volunteering their time to help with the build-out/move-in. The place was filled with anticipation and excitement. It had been over a year since losing our old 2851 N Halsted home. We had been feeling itinerant and disconnected, but finally we were coming home. (We were being pursued by cylons. And all we had was this rusty old Battlestar...)
Here's the lesson, when you're lucky enough to have this kind of a symbolic transformation in your organization, hold on to it. That release of energy can be sustained for a while if you continue to connect your goals, objectives, and message to that one cultural event.
For some reason, this makes me want to recommend a Lencioni book:
If I remember the book correctly, he notes that the one place you don't see a lot of infighting and rivalry is an Emergency Room. When lives are clearly and immediately on the line, you don't play politics. But, it doesn't have to be a human life-or-death struggle, it can be an organization's. And when everyone in the organization sees that struggle in a unified way, you have alignment. And with an aligned workforce, you can do anything... even open the most beautiful improv theater in Chicago. ;)
DAY 41: Organization! (Mar 21)Written by Matt Elwell, CPLP
Today was a little self-indulgent. I bought a lot of shelving and Ryan (ensemble member and guy helping out Sunday mornings) and I set it up all over the theater and offices. I know, this is pretty micro for a guy with my title, but it was very therapeutic.
In an organization with no maintenance/janitorial person (yet!) the place can get pretty grimey and cluttered. I have a big tolerance for that, but I also know that people in a professional environment where they can always find what they need are more likely to be productive. So, emboldened by having someone else here on a Sunday morning, I trotted off to the Home Depot and went at it.
I am now the proud owner of a Home Depot credit card. As soon as we beat our goals, I'm turning in some serious receipts! (I currently only turn in humorous receipts, like from Uncle Fun, etc.)
Anyway, in case it is of any use to you, here's the formula I scratched out to get back control of our professional environment. These are designed to fit a busy workplace, where execution of any given step may be weeks apart from the chance to handle the following step. An important issue was to make sure that between the steps work could continue without much interruption. Also, from a morale standpoint, I'm trying to make sure that every step always feels like progress. There's nothing more soul-killing than having people say, "now it's worse than before!"
Step 1: Accomplish basic cleaning / janitorial
DAY 38-40: Keith... Effing... Johnstone (Mar 18-20)Written by Matt Elwell, CPLP
Okay, I know I just was away from the office for several days, but I thought I still needed to do this. Keith Johnstone, one of the giants of our particular style of improv (short-form / game-based), was in Chicago to teach a 3 day workshop. I opted to take it.
I could write pages on this experience, but here's the lesson: if you're managing in a creative organization, take time to recharge your own creative batteries. Johnstone's words and exercises gave me pages of ideas to bring back to our ensemble. Yes, I lost 2-3 days of productivity, but I have material for 3 months of rehearsals, as well as a whole new (to me) way of looking at our show.
Now, I knew "about" Johnstone. I had read his classic, Impro, and had leafed through Impro for Storytellers. But, without direct experience of his concepts, I always held them on the periphery of what I learned in Chicago improv classes. There's a lot that improvisers of all stripes could learn from this guy.
(One warning if he comes back to the states to teach again: he really loves having a couch on stage. He's going to mention it like 15 times a day. But that's a small price to pay to be in the presence of genius... couch loving genius.)
Big thanks to Colleen Laliberte and skwalkingheads.com for bringing Keith to Chi-town!