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Harnessing the Power of Storytelling in Organizations

Posted on by Aditi Patil

Close up of old typewriter covered with dust with Once upon a time text

It was a hot and humid day in Singapore. I had two big bags of groceries in my hand and was trying to herd my kids to the bus stop. If I missed this bus, I would need to wait at least 15 minutes. Simultaneously running and juggling my bags while egging my 10-year-old on and literally pulling my toddler, it happened.  My 3-year-old started yelling, and lay down. He wouldn’t budge as much as I tried. I was at my wits end. My 10-year-old calmly suggested, “Mom, tell him Jonty’s story.” 

Jonty is a character we have invented, and he is featured in our stories all the time. He makes mistakes, learns from them, and never repeats them again. We tell stories to each other about Jonty all the time. There is always a happy ending for Jonty and his family.

As we started talking about Jonty, my son calmed down.  He was engrossed in the tale that I was spinning. As the story ended, Jonty climbed the bus. And so did my toddler. The tantrum was forgotten.

That is the power of story-telling.

Story-telling is effective because

  • It generates emotion and drives connection with others.
  • It allows us to leave our world behind and delve into an imaginative world.
  • We make connections with the characters in the story and that helps us reflect.
  • We always learn something from every story.
  • Stories inspire and motivate us.

There is a Science behind Storytelling too. It evokes a strong neurological response. Research by Paul Zak indicates that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments in a story. This allows us to focus. Happy moments in stories help us release Oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that promotes connection and empathy. Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.

It wasn’t until I did a creative writing course that I understood the true power of creating powerful stories which evoke emotion and drive learning & connections.

And now as a Coach, and Leadership Development professional I believe that the Power of Story-telling can be applied to organizations in many ways. Some of them are:

Building Shared Vision

 All organizations have a mission and vision. The challenge is to embed this within. Sharing stories of where the mission and vision came from helps employees understand the “Why”. Creating forums that allow people to share personal stories connecting their own experiences to the organization’s vision helps build a shared vision.

Fostering Team-Building

Whether it’s a new team or one that is longstanding, story-telling can help foster a sense of camaraderie. Participating in activities or huddles where teams share stories lead to a brand-new understanding of each other. Stories can range from being as simple as their daily to as deep as to what has shaped their lives.

Presenting New Ideas

Steve Jobs always started his launches by sharing stories. The stories were mostly about Apple’s journey. Ted Talks are full of stories. Sharing your story behind the idea can influence the way people receive your idea.

Developing Leaders

There are as many Leadership models as there are leaders, if not more. And, yet, there can be a disconnect between the ideal and the actual leadership practice. Sharing stories about Inspirational leaders allows individuals to reflect, connect and apply to their lives. Leaders can also share stories with each other on their personal leadership journey and learn from each other.

Inspiring and Leading the Way

In times of rapid change, inspirational leadership is the need of the hour. Sharing stories, both personal and of inspirational personalities can help motivate people to action. Which one would you rather listen to? A Leader who talks only about data or a Leader who also shares stories about possibilities?

I learnt in my creative writing course that everyone has a story to tell. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or life changing. It can be if you want it to be, or it can simply be about the weather. It can be your story, or something you read or saw, or someone’s story that evoked some emotion in you.

Organizations are made up of people. Imagine the wealth of stories that exist within and around each employee.

The next time, you present an idea, interact with a new team or even have a conversation with a co-worker, swap a story, or two. Ask yourself, “What story can I share?” What story can I hear?”

Harness the power of story-telling, one story at a time.

Aditi Patil, Faculty
Catalysis

 

 

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2 Responses to Harnessing the Power of Storytelling in Organizations

Jordan Peck says: 01/21/2020 at 8:44 am

As a father of a 3 year old and as a Hospital PI team member this content certainly resonates with me. However, it also reminds me of a difficulty we have in Healthcare performance improvement. Sometimes stories are so powerful, that they lead us in the wrong direction. Often I have been in meetings or on project teams where a passionately delivered story about a patient, leads the team towards a problem or down a solution path which is not data driven. Alternatively we may have a very well thought out path that gets derailed because it will not work in 1% of situations and a well meaning team member has a passionate story about one of those situations. Stories have true power in change management, but it is important to be selective about at what point in the process they are used. I believe they belong at the beginning and at the end. The beginning to elucidate a problem that needs investigation and at the end to inspire the implementation of a well thought out, data driven, solution.

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Aditi says: 01/21/2020 at 1:09 pm

Thank you for your detailed comments! I so agree. In addition, So many times if the story is inappropriate or even over used, it takes away from the original issue at hand. It is important that when choosing a story , it aligns closely with the theme of your communication or issue AND also appeals to the audience. Knowing your audience is key! Thanks for reading !

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