The Newest Management 3.0 Game: Improv Cards

Get the new Management 3.0 Improv Cards storytelling exercise!

During one of my #Workout workshops, a participant told me this story:

Two years ago, I attended the two-day Management 3.0 class, which was great. One of the practices applied in the class was that we gave each other kudo cards. It was a nice experience. However, at the end of the second day, it appeared that I was the only person who had not received a kudo card from anyone. I went home feeling a little bit sad. {8-( For sure, it was not a big drama, but it showed me that even good practices can fail for some people, in certain contexts.

It was great personal story, and a useful learning experience for me.

I didn’t ask for this story. It simply emerged during one of the Improv Cards exercises I did with the participants. You can play it too, if you want.

What is the Improv Cards exercise?

The Improv Cards game contains 52 playing cards with pictures on them. You play it with at least three people, though best is probably a table of four to six players.

Each person takes four random cards from the pile. (Together, you can agree on fewer or more cards.)

One other random card, taken from the pile, goes in the middle, face up. (You can put the other cards on the side, as you won’t be using them.)

Together, you agree on a context, such as work-life experiences or organizational changes or how to raise a family.

In a random order, the participants then try to make associations between a card on the table and one of the cards in their hands, given the context they agreed on. In other words, you try to inspire your team members with stories or insights that fit the context, and you simply use the illustrations as a way of digging them up from the deep corners of your brain.

  • When you offer your story, you put the card from your hand next to the card on the table which triggered the association for you. You can connect any card in your hand with any card on the table.
  • Like in a normal conversation, there is no order to the storytelling. When you have something to share, share it! (Though it would be polite to let someone else finish their contribution first!)
  • The exercise is over when everyone finished all their cards.

At the end of the exercise, if you want, you may each assign each other points for the best stories and insights. Each of you has three points, and you give them to each other in a peer-to-peer fashion, one point for each story/insight that inspired you.

Advanced Rules

You can agree on the following additional rules, for advanced storytellers:

  • When you continue the train of thought from the previous storyteller, you earn a bonus point! This means you say, “Yes, and…” and you place your card right next to the one that was placed by the previous participant.
  • Disagreement, dissent and denial can be outlawed. Anyone who moves against the contribution of a previous player, earns a negative point.
  • Questions may be asked but they don’t earn you any points. It is better to move the conversation forward by contributing with your own insights.

Note: these rules are inspired by Improv theater, in which actors build on top of each others’ contributions, and the method of Appreciative Inquiry, which attempts to address difficult change with a positive attitude.

Do you have any suggestions for alternative rules? Feel free to add them in the comments section.

You can download the Improv Cards for free (in PDF format) or order the high-quality decks from the Management 3.0 shop.


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  • Gael Rebmann

    Your design is very (very) close to the one used in this card game : https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1234/once-upon-time-storytelling-card-game
    Let’s forget the copyrights problem.
    One interesting rule in this game is that when a player waste too much time looking for her words, she lose her turn (you could give her a negative point).
    You could increase the challenge by choosing a card that must be played in final position (every player could have the same “final card”).

    • jurgenappelo

      Hello Gael, thanks for the suggestion. This indeed seems like something worth trying.

      BTW, all illustrations in this deck are hand-drawn by me, and I’ve never heard nor seen the game you are referring to. So, I’m not at all worried about “copyright problems”, because there aren’t any. 🙂

      • Gael Rebmann

        Your design give me a lot of ideas. I’m not sure if these ideas are clever or not. We’ll have to try it to know if it is worthy:
        1) You could make people draw a card instead of negative points (“negative” is such a scary word!).
        2) We could imagine a variant where cards are placed face up in front of the players. A player already speaking is given the possibility to use a card placed in front of another one in order to develop his ideas further. But if he does so, he have to draw two new cards. It will force the players to act quick if they want to use one of THEIR cards and should improve interaction between them. Their are two risks though. One player could lead the “discussion” too much. It could reduce the think process and increase the instinctive aspect: player will rush the cards that presents obvious links. (nevertheless, it could be an effect you want. I’m not sure that obvious links are crappy links)

  • http://andycleff.com/ Andy Cleff

    Yes, and there’s so much to be said for improv skills…. Great book by folks at Second City: http://www.amazon.com/Yes-And-Improvisation-Creativity-Collaboration-Lessons/dp/0062248545 and a few more justifications (for the pointed headed bosses who aren’t convinced this is a good idea) http://andycleff.com/2015/05/agile-learning-games-applied-improv/

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