The Power of Communal Story
As an actor, when I am connected to the group, I am empowered and pushed forward. In the same way, stories, with all their images, dreams, hopes, and metaphors, inspire action. They unify and empower organizations toward a strong collective vision for growth.
I take a walk through my neighborhood the morning after a powerful storm. Since there is no electricity, it has drawn people out of their homes to inquire and connect. Stories abound. Andy and Maureen, an elderly couple, talk of how they missed, by inches, a seventy-five year old pine crashing into their home. Dan and Teri strategize with the Whalens on how to remove a majestic old elm precariously balanced on the peak of their upper roof. As we speak, our common values rise to the surface and we listen appreciatively. We help and inspire one another with our stories – becoming the heroes and heroines, describing the challenges and how we took the lead. In our neighborhood organization, our communal story is emerging.
In improvisational theater we talk about the power of the ensemble to create story. As an actor, when I am connected to the group, I am empowered and pushed forward. In the same way, stories, with all their images, dreams, hopes, and metaphors, inspire action. They unify and empower organizations toward a strong collective vision for growth.
Organizational storytelling is both collaborative and generative by nature. It is how members of an organization become real and vulnerable, share their thoughts and ideas, and paint a picture for the future. Truly aware leaders are reflective of their organization. They listen to the collective wisdom of their people and unify their findings into a clear and all-enveloping vision that supports and drives organizational goals.What needs should be addressed? Where is reassurance, inspiration, or motivation needed?
Steve Denning of the World Bank made such a discovery while seeking to better understand the dynamics of his department. Ultimately, he learned more critical knowledge about the organization from trading stories with colleagues in the cafeteria than from reading the bank’s official documents and reports.
“An organization’s knowledge . . . is contained in its stories,” he said. “Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking. It supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and new worlds.”*
How has storytelling shaped your organization’s culture?
*Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (N.p.: Butterworth Heiman, 2001), xvii.