What “Yes, and…” Can Do For Collaborations

“Yes, and…”

By nature all collaborations are creative – they describe the act of people coming together to produce something that doesn’t already exist.  A collaboration will result in greater success if everyone participating in it feels comfortable contributing their ideas (however wild or off the established path) and there is willingness from everyone to stay open and value all contributions.  If your group of participants has had time to build trust and safety with one another, this might happen naturally.  If they are missing that for any reason, try borrowing a trick from the world of comedy improv to build collaborative trust, encourage all voices, and ramp up the boundary-pushing creativity that leads to exciting growth and innovation.

Collaboration All-Stars
Collaboration All-Stars

How does it work?

Do what you always do in collaboration – start by sharing perspectives on your situation or initiative so all participants start off with a comprehensive picture of where you’re all at with it. 

Before you embark on the next step where you’re brainstorming possibilities for where you want the situation or initiative to go, agree that you will entertain all ideas.  Nothing will be struck down or negated while you’re tossing them around.  To facilitate that, someone starts with the first idea. Everyone who shares something after that tacks on the phrase “yes, and…” to the idea they’re about to add. 

The “yes” affirms the other person’s idea, the “and” builds a bridge between their thoughts and catapults the process forward creatively (where a “no” would shut the whole process down). 

Keep going until you’re out of ideas or steam, and give everyone time to let the list you’ve generated sink in.  After that move onto the step where you’re discussing and editing them, and ultimately choose the possibility/ies that you all can commit to bringing to life.  

“Yes, and…” can help your collaborations:

Get Better Results

“Yes, and…” removes the anxiety that a person may feel if they fear getting negatively judged for sharing their idea.  Knowing that all contributions will be accepted makes it safe for people to take risks and generate more creative possibilities for the group to work with.  

Get Unstuck

“Yes, and…” is a great exercise for getting gridlocked team members to move toward understanding one another rather than digging deeper into defending their own point of view.   

Get Open-Minded

“Yes, and…” also can develop people’s ability to hold a space for competing or contradicting ideas to exist together.  

Get Energized

“Yes, and…” is a great way to add momentum to the collaborative process, the energy of “yes, and” has a way of inspiring people to dream bigger and push beyond boundaries they may otherwise have stayed within.

Want to see a comedy example of the exercise?  Watch Tina Fey explain how it worked at The Second City:

Speaking of The Second City, they wrote a book for the business and leadership world called “Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses No, But Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration.”  I have not read it yet, still, I love what they have to say about improv’s relevance for all types of collaborative situations in this two-minute promo:

You may already be doing all of this if your collaborations (especially the brainstorming sessions inside them) are made up of inclusive, affirming practices and behaviors.  If that’s the case, take some time with your team to identify what those are so you can continue to be intentional about using them.  If you like the “Yes, and…” language, give it a try.  The most important thing is to continuously find ways to build and sustain a safe environment where collaborative partners are free to unleash their creativity.


*photo collage from fsu.edu



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