Using Storytelling to Unite Your Hybrid Team
One of the greatest challenges of today’s hybrid workplace is creating—and maintaining—an inclusive culture. Some team members are sharing organic moments of human connection in the office, while others are limited to what they can experience via their computers, tablets, and phones. Without thoughtful mediation, this difference in daily work life can lead to an “in-group/out-group” dynamic, with those in-office being perceived as being more legitimate or valued members of the team, and those working remotely as second-class. Consequently, leaders need to create opportunities for meaningful connection between in-person and remote employees.
A key way to do this is through storytelling.
Stories Generate Empathy
We’re hard-wired to connect through stories. When we hear stories, our brains release the neurochemical oxytocin, known as the “bonding” hormone because it makes us empathize with the storyteller and/or the characters in the story.
In the office environment, it’s the informal storytelling in the elevator or the cafeteria that gets people to feel empathy and, consequently, more part of a team or collective. When work goes hybrid, these opportunities for connection become more limited, but they don’t need to go away. Storytelling just needs some intentional, consistent encouragement to help bring remote employees into the fold.
3 Ways to Increase Storytelling
Prompt storytelling. If you’re in charge of a new hybrid team or when welcoming new hires, use storytelling as an icebreaker to jump-start a culture of storytelling. Create small breakout groups and offer a storytelling prompt. For example: Share three stories from three points in your life: childhood, early 20s, and any other age. Or: Choose an item on your desk and tell a story about it. The prompt doesn’t need to be complicated! It’s merely a jumping-off point to get people loosened up and accustomed to sharing stories.
Model storytelling. Spend some time at the beginning or end of one-on-one catch-ups and team meetings to share a personal anecdote. This could be about a recent vacation or something funny that happened when you were making coffee this morning. Stories with dilemmas (we were lost and running out of gas!) and resolutions (we found a gas station and the attendant directed us to the hotel) are most effective; try not to just recite a list of actions.
Make space for storytelling. It can be tempting to treat any deviation from your meeting agenda as an annoyance, but when you hear storytelling happening, don’t get in the way. If the meeting runs a little long—so what? Stories are the building blocks of cohesion within your hybrid team. Let them happen.