Thinking on your feet – the art of improvisation in the workplace

Thinking on your feet – the art of improvisation in the workplace

By RADA Business


In this report, RADA Business explores the importance of improvisation.  The findings are drawn following interviews with 1,000 people from workplaces across the UK, covering all ages, levels and experiences, from interns to CEOs. These people came from businesses large and small, in fields as diverse as agriculture, law, healthcare and transport.  This resulting report explores how great improvisation benefits the individual, the organisation and the customer. 

Improvisation is a skill often associated with artistic performance, an act of spontaneity or unplanned creativity. In music or acting, great improvisation is the ultimate demonstration of confidence, skill, and technical ability; to act on instinct and still produce an end result of merit and worth. 

The artistic world has embraced this skill to great effect. As film director, writer and RADA graduate Mike Leigh said, using the technique for character development helps to “liberate” the actors and “give them immense scope to be creative”

However, the art of improvisation is just as powerful an ingredient in business and one that is often undervalued, overlooked or simply seen as superfluous to the world of work. 

Improvisation skills help us to listen, share, empower our teams and help people to respond naturally and powerfully to every issue, incident and interaction, especially the ones that happen spontaneously like a customer complaint, or a last-minute invitation to discuss work with your boss. 

These skills apply across all areas of work. Whether you’re working as a leader in sales, healthcare or engineering, or if you are on the front line dealing with customers in your shop, hospital or local authority, the ability to improvise is what marks the great from the good - in any sector. 

Organisations that wish to create a culture of excellence also need to foster a spirit of improvisation. It’s important to set the vision and values that need to be consistently applied, but then give people the freedom, trust and confidence to find the best way to an end goal in any situation. 

In such cultures, workers thrive by feeling empowered and in control. They’re able to be themselves and act on what they know to be right, rather than feeling fearful when deviating from the normal path. 

As customers too, we want the people who serve us to be able to think creatively, respond and to be present in the moment. Applying the human touch, being able to connect and be empathic to customers’ needs and concerns are skills that shouldn’t be underestimated. 

When we are the customer or consumer, if someone assisting us is unable to cope with being in the moment or making a tricky last-minute decision, it creates tension. 

We may feel that they are being unhelpful, impatient or inattentive. The impact on a company’s brand and customer experience is directly related to their ability to master the art of improvisation and build relationships. 

Download the research 

Resource type: Research | Published: 2020