Team Building with the Bard

Michael Kelly never set out to be a corporate trainer. He founded Shakespeare in Action (SIA) with a mandate to help youth connect with Shakespeare in innovative ways, and the organization’s 30-year history is a testament to his success. Through SIA’s workshops and residencies, which include a hip hop performance reminiscent of Hamilton, students approach content in a way that resonates with them. So they can finally understand Othello’s motivations, yes, but they also learn about their own motivations and how to communicate with the world around them.

It should come as no surprise to those of us in learning and talent development that many adults in the working world are still struggling with those key skills. Very recently, the Solutions Department at Learnography had a team training session on strategic communications where we explored the layers of personal biases and filtering that so often lead to miscommunication. Theatre training is another means of exploring our communication strategies. It hones a skill set that that can be applied far beyond the rehearsal hall.

Michael Kelly in rehearsal.

After five years of delivering adult programming through SIA’s Shakespeare Challenge, Michael has identified the exercises and activities that are most influential to workplace performance and he’s ready to take his workshops to the corporate space.

So what does corporate training look like through a Shakespearian lens? One of the key lessons in SIA’s training program is the different ways we communicate, both verbally and physically. In rehearsal, students discover that the same line can take on very different meanings depending on the tone and the physical cues used in delivery. Diving deeper, Michael invites students to consider the character’s motivations: “Why do you say what you say when you say it?” This is an important concept in the workplace, where communicating effectively as a team is essential. knowing when to raise a concern, and how to frame, has a huge impact on how people react. Improved communication skills support employee efficiency and wellbeing.

Another key skill for any corporate professional or team is the willingness to try new things. Many see tolerance for failure as an attribute that cannot be changed, but through Michael’s Shakespeare training lens it is a skill that can be developed through the rehearsal process. He routinely puts his students in vulnerable positions by asking them to test out their staging ideas and discuss what worked and what didn’t. This experimentation creates a tolerance to failure and teaches professionals how to recognize mistakes and recover from them. There are a million ways that this resilience can improve success in the workplace.

The development of these soft skills feed directly into leadership development. SIA encourages students to adopt roles they are unfamiliar with and occasionally take charge of their team, which is perfect priming for a leadership role. Perhaps more importantly, SIA also teaches future leaders how to follow direction and learn from others. When every member of a team is empowered to speak up, strategic about what they say, and comfortable with being wrong sometimes, the whole company benefits.'

Author: Kate Salmon

Communications specialist and general word nerd from Toronto, Ontario. Upon learning that I could still get a degree in rhetoric in the 21st century, I went to the University of Waterloo to do precisely that. Now I’m continuing my learning journey at Learnography, a non-profit education consulting organization that really practices its principles of continuous development. With a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences, we are changing the face of corporate training.

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