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During HRMAC’s upcoming workshop “From Apathy to Empathy: Empowering the Bystander,” hosted in partnership with Second City Works and sponsored by SmithAmundsen LLC, facilitators Butch Jerinic and Rachel Miller will address why improvisation works as a tool for learning and how you can be empowered to prevent harassment in the workplace.

We sat down with them for a sneak peek at what they will be doing and what you can do as a leader in your own organization.

HR Leader: Describe The Second City Works program in your own words.

Butch Jerinic (BJ): SCW programs are experiential and fun. They engage audiences in improv activities that allow them to “try on” the skills that make improvisers successful on stage. Participants make the connections for themselves and where the practical applications of improvisation can help them better connect with their audiences. It’s not up to the participants to be funny, but it does require them to be open to the experience. Our programs are tailored to client’s goals to reinforce their learning objectives in a low stake’s environment, without PowerPoint. We aren’t talking at participants; we’re allowing them to experience the workshop activities and discuss discoveries in the moment.

Rachel Miller (RM): Second City Works programs are fun, interactive and provide an opportunity for self-discovery and evaluation. These workshops are also very one-of-a-kind, as they unfold through the discussions that the facilitators and participants in the room are having. Our product isn’t just something on paper that anyone can read out loud and deliver like a script. Our facilitators talk with you, not at you. We have years of experience to lean on and reference, the ability to talk about skills from any number of angles and the ability to create an atmosphere that is comfortable enough to give people permission to get out of their own way to potentially look at something from a different point of view.

HR Leader: What is experiential learning? Why do you think this is an effective method for learning?

  • It is literally that, experiential. Throughout a workshop, participants work in pairs, small groups or as a whole group to actively engage with each other and identify their individual tendencies as communicators, how they listen, adjust to changing circumstances or think on their feet to name a few. Since there are no “wrong answers” in improvisation, participants get very comfortable sharing their experience during debrief discussions and recognize many of their “challenges” are similar to their colleagues. They leave with a shared experience and a common language to hold themselves and each other accountable.
  • Experiential learning carries the benefit of doing, and when you do anything, it’s much more likely to stick. Second City Works then adds laughter to release tension and anxiety and to get people talking about what’s really going on. It’s the difference between chopping the vegetables, heating the pan and cooking the mirepoix yourself instead of just watching the Food Network.

HR Leader: You have been facilitating corporate workshops for more than 20 years. How do the programs of today vary from the programs in the 1990s or 2000s? How have attitudes changed?

BJ: What’s been great over the long haul of facilitating for Second City Works is not only our ability to learn from our audiences and follow industry trends, but also continually adapt and customize our offerings. We were often brought into an organization for a “fun teambuilding” event, and while “teambuilding” is a by-product of our work, over the years we’ve gotten to dig deep to offer a variety of programs, each with a unique focus. Our clients are part of the process and cocreate the learning for their audiences. It’s been great becoming engrained with many organizations, building programs that each build on the last, to affect cultural change, and, of course…build stronger, more effective teams

RM: We’ve gotten much better about directly tying these skills to the worlds of our participants to increase relevance and accessibility. We recognized that speaking too much about using these skills “as an improviser” had the potential to create a disconnect with participants fully understanding how THEY were supposed to use them.

I often relate the workshop to a Venn diagram: our world meets yours. The overlap in the middle is how to use improvisational practices to be more empathetic and efficient in human interactions.

Also, we’re able to discuss “feelings” in the business world again.

HR Leader: What impact have you seen programs like “From Apathy to Empathy: Empowering the Bystander” have on organizations and on individuals?

BJ: What’s amazing is how participants start a session vs. how they leave. Of course, at the start they are a bit anxious, wondering what to expect. Usually that anxiety comes from a very human, and very real focus on themselves. We break down the need to be perfect, and continually reinforce the concept of being “other’s focused”. That shift in mindset allows participants to recognize the impact of their actions vs. their intentions. “I didn’t intend to hurt you when I stepped on your toe”, but your toe likely still hurts. The workshop exercises put participants in a place to raise not only their own awareness around the impact of their actions, but they also experience unconditional support for lending their voices to the debrief conversations. They often leave saying they are inspired to advocate for themselves and each other moving forward.

The best feedback we hear after is how the workshop provided space for open conversation and better understanding.

RM: Our programs help people become simultaneously more self-aware and more others-focused. Self-awareness can help us be more mindful of our words and behaviors. Being others-focused, especially in regards to workplace harassment, can help us to take care of one another if and when something inappropriate is taking place.

People are also given a language and a shared experience that they can use to hold themselves and each other more accountable.

Also, in a fast-paced often electronically-connected world people can forget that there’s another human being on the other end of that email or text. People are able to reflect more on how and when they communicate in order to best serve everyone involved.

HR Leader: Why do you think the approach of using comedy in a taboo or more serious subject matter works for programs like this one?

BJ: Everyone likes to laugh and while this sounds cliché, we can all take what we do seriously but we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Once we acknowledge that we’re all human, we will make mistakes and we have the opportunity to adjust, then we can navigate what’s uncomfortable about the topic and stay open to gain better understanding of each other.

RM: Levity helps with creative problem solving and productivity. Laughing with others helps create a connective tissue that increases our want to take care of each other.

HR Leader: What can participants expect when attending “From Apathy to Empathy: Empowering the Bystander”?

BJ: Participants can expect to have a really good time getting to know some folks better and gain some skills to better advocate for themselves and their colleagues when they go back to work.

RM: Participants will laugh, think and connect with people quickly and in ways that may surprise them. Many will leave with a refreshed sense of purpose, many will leave with new skills to try on and some will have had a really fun few hours.

HR Leader: If participants walk away with one key point from the workshop, what do you hope it would be?


We all have the responsibility to create a culture where everyone is heard and feels valued.

RM: You’re human and so is everyone around you.

Register to learn more from Butch, Rachel and your fellow HR peers on April 25 at 1:00 p.m.