While status and hierarchy is part of human nature, it can obstruct creative thinking and collaboration in business organisations. However by adapting a few simple methods from the theater, these barriers can be broken and trigger an innovative mindset
It’s not news to anyone that most companies have hierarchies and employees with differing titles. A chain of command is essential for the success and function of a company and is efficient for making things work.
But the differing statuses between co-workers will sometimes limit innovative thinking, since not everyone will have their ideas voiced. Luckily there is a way to temporarily suspend the hierarchy. Piers Ibbotson, Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts has had a successful career as a performer, working at the Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, and has since turned to speaking and coaching.
And his mantra is that businesses have lots to learn from the world of theater.
“I think they can learn about collaboration, creativity and communication. They can learn about processing and creative project management – how to get a group of people together, create a team and deliver a project. Theater is very efficient at delivering projects on time and on budget – much more so than most organisations,” says Ibbotson.
Erase the hierarchy
While it’s impossible to completely get rid of hierarchy, Piers Ibbotson argues that it can be temporarily suspended for everyone’s benefit.
“Your status is connected to your position in the hierarchy and the power you have in an organisation. But moment to moment in each individual relationship or with any group, you have a choice whether you display status or not – how you use it. Whether you choose to behave dominantly or you choose to behave submissively. A leader needs to be a good actor to be able to be flexible and play whatever status is going to make whatever conversation they are having most successful,” Piers Ibbotson explains.
And the hierarchy may be efficient in many ways. In the army it is absolutely crucial to have a chain of command, as well as an airplane needs to have a captain and a co-pilot, otherwise it just won’t work.
“But if you want to create something, it’s usually not helpful, because you want to be able to have ideas voiced by anybody anywhere in the hierarchy, because they have a point of view or a perspective which might be useful. So you want to be able to suspend the status game and the hierarchy sometimes, in order to be creative,” Piers Ibbotson says.
This is done by splitting people into groups, each responsible for particular projects – just like in theater productions. And this way it is of no matter how big an organisation you might have.
“All groups have the potential to work in this way. But then you need to be small and be working on a particular specific project, which has constraint. You need to know where it begins, where it ends, how long for, what its task is – when you get that project relationship then you can create an ensemble which can suspend hierarchy at times in order to innovate,” Ibbotson says.
Learn from the theater
This way of working together is the only way in the theatrical world. Piers Ibbotson believes that a lot of these methods can be directly transferred to business for great benefits.
“In the theatre people are trained to collaborate and improvise. It doesn’t matter what your status is in the world – whether you’re famous or whatever. You put the work ahead of your own goal. Actors are very humble with one another and respectful of each other’s process. There are rules for instance that actors don’t give each other suggestions. They just accept what the other person is doing and use it. They don’t criticize each others work, because that would be playing status. It’s the director’s job. Their job is to collaborate with one another and continually create material for the director to work with. ” he says.
So what do you want people to learn from your workshops?
“At the end of the day, a group will have understood that they can behave differently towards one another – they’ve seen each other do it, they let go of the anxiety that comes with fear of losing status or the power that comes with imposing hierarchy and status on somebody else. They’ve stopped playing the game. And they’ve become much more close and equal in status, which allows them to listen to one another, be more creative and collaborative and innovative. That is a permanent change that you can bring about in a day or so.”