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Office Life Tuesday, 3 November, 1998, 11:00 GMT
Not just another office drama
"To be or not to be?" That is the question that will soon be resonating through offices up and down the country.

So say disciples of the very latest in staff team-building techniques: theatre in the workplace.

Sceptics might argue there's already enough drama in the office without the thought of having to act out Shakespeare in front of your colleagues.

But the trend is growing and companies are increasingly turning to actors to teach their employees a thing or two about team-building.

According to Michael Maynard, when it comes to teamwork, performers are streets ahead of the rest of us.

Matthew Maynard Associates staff
Clients of Maynard Leigh Associates experiment in group bonding
Whereas it might take a business team six months to bond, actors have no such luxury of time, says Mr Maynard, who, with his partner Andrew Leigh, has written a book on the subject: Ace Teams - Creating Star Performances in Businesses.

"When a group of actors come together to put on a play they have to bond quickly, work through a script, suggest ideas and put on a show before an audience, all within a few weeks," he says.

And mediocrity is not on the agenda. "No theatre company sits down on the first day of a production and says let's do a run-of-the-mill production of Hamlet."

"Creating something that you present to an audience, under pressure, is a great team building experience."

Less confrontation

When it comes to relaying these skills to office staff, there are several approaches.

"When there is a certain issue that needs addressing in the office I would suggest constructing a play around what is happening there. That allows staff to discuss what's going on in a less confrontational style," says Mr Maynard, an actor with 20 years' experience.

Actors are also used to make role-playing more realistic, but if it's top teamwork you're after then, according to Mr Maynard, there's nothing like putting on a full-blown play.

Richard Olivier, son of Laurence, takes a slightly different approach, using individual Shakespeare texts to help guide staff through difficult work situations .

Mr Olivier, who runs leadership workshops with Cranfield School of Management, says Henry V "lends itself to a leader's journey".

Inspiration seekers

"We would take people through the play and ask them to identify various problems and dilemmas confronting Henry in the play and the problem they face as leaders and managers," says Mr Olivier, who directed the play at London's Globe Theatre last year.

Henry's speeches are also pored over as models of inspirational address that could motivate a workforce.

Mr Olivier has also developed programmes around The Merchant of Venice - its themes of justice and mercy encourage discussion of ethical issues - and A Winter's Tale, which strikes a chord with managers grappling with change.

He also arranges alternative role plays in which staff are invited to interact with characters such as "the shadow of the company".

"We are trying to integrate the creative and the rational sides of people - the left and the right sides of the brain," says Mr Olivier.

"It's not about the seven most effective ways to become a creative leader," he says, preferring to see the result of his work as more adaptable than a "quick-fix" guide to better office relations.

And, according to Mr Olivier, the industry is about to grow massively.

"It feels at this point that we are on the tip of an iceberg. I feel that there's going to be an explosion of arts-based learning."

All of which is music to the ears of Tim Stockil, from the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts.

The organisation has long been accustomed to the one-way traffic of firms sponsoring the arts.

Now it's payback time, he says, reeling off a list of blue-chip companies now taking advantage of arts-based learning. They include Marks and Spencer, NatWest, BT, Glaxo Wellcome and Arthur Andersen.

"The big issue in business seems to be creativity. Five years ago people were just talking about information, and the power of information. But now companies are more interested in getting their staff to think."

Human Resources Manager at EMI music, Gillian Bell, found a short course with Maynard Leigh helped her confidence when talking to groups of people at work.

She has "always hated" the idea of talking publicly.

"I don't think I'll ever be a natural presenter. But it helped me. it teaches you good preparation."

Think Different

As well as physical exercises aimed at relaxing, there was training in voice projection and suggestions for being more creative in talks.

"Instead of just slapping up a few bullet points on a shaky overhead projector, they suggest painting a hypothetical picture of your idea. There's also an exercise in improvisation."

Ms Bell was impressed with the idea of actors passing on their skills, and is starting to "roll-out" the programme within EMI.

"I don't think they're going to tell us about our jobs or the content of presentations, but they can tell us about presentation nerves and engaging an audience."

Clear as Mud

Too many office-dwellers hide behind gobbledegook, using jargon and obscure words. They may think it makes them look clever, but it leaves most people mystified.

A favourite example of the Plain English Campaign is from a job advertisement for a building society. It read: "Our success has been based on consistent, integrated teamwork and quality enhancement through people. By ensuring consistency in the development and integration of process plans, you will facilitate the management process to develop implementation plans for the processes they manage."

E-mail us your examples of ridiculous English which has been used in your office. The worst entry will win a Guide to Clear English which the winner can secretly leave on the offender's desk.

Click here to submit your entry.

Please include details of your name and country.

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