Building a storytelling culture
Updated: Jun 22
Part 5 of 6
The storytelling culture of an organization must originate from its leaders. Having a well-designed corporate communications plan, a solid brand narrative, and an emphatic speaker for a leader are not enough to create a storytelling culture that will give birth to the collective narrative.
The organization itself must become a nurturing storytelling space. And like in any situation, the leader must lead by example. He must become the first storyteller.
Storytelling is not an easy task. The skills involved in telling stories are easy enough to learn. The difficulty comes from the need to expose one’s self to an audience, revealing to them one’s desires and pains. This is the hard part of storytelling--exposing your vulnerability to your people. This is also its power. This exposure earns you their trust, loyalty, and their stories.
This is not just a matter of sincerity and truthfulness in communicating an idea. Exposing one’s desires and pains is a prerequisite to the telling of an engaging story. It is only when the audience sees the protagonist’s desires and pains that he surrenders his disbelief and accepts the story as his own truth. The moment the audience realizes what is at stake for the protagonist, what the protagonist will lose and sacrifice, he connects with him and makes him want to share his own story.
The leader must be the first storyteller and he must create opportunities for his teammates to tell their own stories. At Overmind, at the end of each project or shoot, we gather together, usually over a meal, to share stories of the project or shoot we just finished. We call it a debriefing. We run down the day and share our feelings with each other and process them. This is a tradition I inherited from my sensei, Marilou Diaz-Abaya. She does not let a shooting day pass without this debriefing-storytelling session.
One financial institution hired me to teach their members how to transform their best practices into written anecdotes to facilitate more efficient documentation and knowledge sharing. Another company I collaborated with instituted a “Powerpoint Friday” session where they gather together over drinks and allow their members to do random powerpoint presentations to the team about anything and everything under the sun. After working with them, they have tweaked their powerpoint session into a storytelling session, which encourages their team members to share real stories that reflect their core values.
Of course, the organization also must provide the opportunities not just for storytelling but for learning how to structure, design, and tell stories. A lot of consultancies and training agencies have started offering storytelling workshops to organizations. Business storytelling has become a buzzword. How do we know which training programs and workshops are the best for our people to take? My suggestion is to study the programs available out there and see which ones see storytelling as more than just a communication tool. Programs that allow you to harness the power of story beyond communication and public speaking, to me, are more useful and suitable. Storytelling is a mindset. It can even be the source of an organization’s strategy. Therefore, a holistic view of storytelling is important.
In summary, to be able to build a storytelling culture, we remember three things: 1) the leader must become the first storyteller, 2) the organization must provide opportunities and occasions for telling stories, and 3) the people must be trained in the art of storytelling, not just as a form of communication but as a mindset.
In the last article, I mentioned 3 things the leader needs to harness the power of storytelling. I previously discussed the art of listening. In this article, I covered building a culture of storytelling. In the next article, I will discuss how an organization can draw out strategy from its story by seeing itself as a protagonist moving along its own narrative.