Why Create a Culture of Storytelling?

05/12/2015 07:06 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016


Unless you've been living in solitary confinement for the past few years, chances are good that you are a member of some kind of organization or community -- a gathering of people who have come together in service to a common goal. Whether it's a Fortune 500 company, non-profit, or softball team, we are all, whether we know it or not, involved in the process of creating organizational culture -- "a collective way of thinking, believing, behaving and working."

How conducive the cultures we create are to the success of our missions is anyone's guess, but what is not a guess is the fact that high performing organizations exhibit the same kind of mission-enabling qualities: trust, shared vision, collaboration, clear communication, diversity of thought, commitment to learning, freedom of expression and a sense of belonging.

While there are many ways to enhance these qualities, the most effective and least expensive way is storytelling -- a culture-building phenomenon that's been going on since language first began. Simply put, in order for a group of people to accomplish extraordinary goals, they need to know each other at a level far beyond title, role, or resume.

When people tell their stories to each other and are heard, magic happens. People bond. Barriers dissolve. Connections are made. Trust increases. Knowledge is transmitted. Wisdom is shared. A common language is birthed. And a deep sense of interdependence is felt. That's why, in days of old, our ancestors stood around the fire and shared their stories with each other. Survival depended on it and so did the emotional well-being of the tribe.

Times have changed since then, as have our methods of communication.

Where once story reigned supreme, now it's technology and all his attention deficit offspring: texting, Twitter, Instagram, email, Facebook, and drive-by pep talks.

What we've gained in efficiency, we've lost in effectiveness. The spirit of the law has been replaced by the letter. People may be transmitting more, but receiving less. Data, information, and opinions are shared, but not much meaning. And it is meaning that people hunger for. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why employee engagement is down in so many organizations these days. It's because so many people are feeling isolated, disconnected, unseen, and unheard.

If you are part of an organization, no matter what it's shape or size, it's time for some meaning making -- and that meaning making begins by creating engaging opportunities for everyone, from mail room to board room, to share their stories with each other.

Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY. The above post is excerpted from his forthcoming book, STORYTELLING AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.