Tag Archives: organizational culture

What’s in a Story?

It was just another Wednesday morning….. moving from meeting to meeting, maneuvering the ruts that the recent snow storm had left, and thinking about what was next on my list of projects, and how much work awaited me as I returned to my office. As I walked down the halls (perhaps it was the air of familiarity in my pace and the briefcase in hand that made them ask), I stopped briefly as I heard someone call out – excuse me…. can you help.

I stopped in my tracks….. a bit disappointed with my own lack of attention to my surroundings. There she was, an elderly woman with tears in her eyes and the sound of fear in her voice. She was trying to find her way; probably because a loved one or her husband of many years had just been brought into the hospital or had taken a turn for the worse…. She was alone and distraught and wasn’t able to follow the directions she’d been given by our switchboard. I looked at the piece of paper in her hand and started to offer her directions…. and immediately thought WHAT ARE YOU DOING….. nothing at this moment could be more important than helping this woman to get where she needs to be. So I stopped and said, why don’t I just accompany you to where you need to go. As we slowly walked down the hallway and we talked, she apologized for the ‘rust on her brain’ that morning. I re-assured her, and let her know that she had no need to worry – we’d get where she needed to be and we all have some rust that needs shaking off first thing in the morning. With others around I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to relay her story, or to ask why her brain was rusty that morning. BUT we safely got to her destination and her thanks and her touch on my arm as we parted said all that needed to be said….. When we forget that the most important part of what we do each day – is to take the time to walk with a patient or family member and help them navigate the unfamiliarity of our culture….. I’d say, we’ve lost our way.

Did it work? Was my story memorable? Was it easy to understand? Did I tell too much or too little? Was it believable? ‘Rememberable’? Entertaining? Did you identify with the character? Did it as Rossiter suggests, stimulate your empathetic orientation and provide a basis for both cognitive and emotional responses. Did it allow you to experience the story and the world views of another? As Rossiter suggests, there is power in stories, they can lead to experience based, constructivist pedagogy (p 1).

It was with my continued search for how we transform our cultures that I came across the work of Lamsa and Sintonen this week, and their advice that:

narratives are useful tools for interpreting and transforming abstract values into an understandable and rememberable form at the practical level among the organizational members. (p 108)

These narratives help us to reflect upon the type of organization we want to be. Perhaps they help us to move past single loop learning (stay tuned yet another post coming on that topic)….. and change our assumptions about the way things are done around here. I’d hope that anyone in my organization would have done the same thing on Wednesday morning OR, that they’d relate to my story and think a bit differently the next time they are faced with a similar situation. I didn’t save a life on Wednesday, it was just another day at the office – BUT, I hope my actions made a difference.

If I were creating the banner that hangs at our front entrance, I’d hope it would simply say – ‘our team is here to help when you need us’.

As  Lamsa and Sintonen suggest:

narratives not only define who we are but also what kind of an organization and what kind of people we should be. Thus they also tell us about the wishes, aims and morals of an organization. The participatory narrative enables the members of the organization to commit to self-reflection, and it serves as a method for their learning. (p 108)

A few years ago, our culture started down the path of the importance of stories. In the portfolio that I was part of, we started every meeting with a story. BUT, we’ve become so busy as of late, that we’ve started to slip back to old ways and old habits. As with anything, cultural changes are only sustained with continued dedication…… So, after my readings and critical reflection this week, I’ve sent a note to my teams and have updated our meeting agendas…… 1.0 on the agenda  now reads: positive stories of the week & thank you’s. As I talked about last week, it’s time to start ‘acting’ my way into it again :).

That little yellow challenge flag has been thrown…..Thoughts? Ideas? Your story?


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