High performing work cultures are connected cultures. Culture—the beliefs, values, and norms expressed by the people in an organization—evolves and is reinforced through person-by-person interactions. Culture lives in the stories people tell one another; in their descriptions of the way things work around here. It’s the stories people hear from one another that reinforce their membership in the same “tribe.” When people don’t have enough contact with one another to share their stories, a break in positive relationships occurs and the health of the culture—and of the organization—often suffers.
What can you do to help bridge the distance in space and time between people who work on different shifts or in far-flung locations? Here are a few ideas:
Telling and listening to stories is a universal human phenomenon. Capitalize on people’s love of stories to engage them about what’s going on “over there.” Share success stories from other shifts or locations at meetings. Use names and details to make the stories come alive. Instead of “Our Nevada location exceeded their goal” try: “Mary, Larry, and Teri in the desert of Nevada were like manufacturing ninjas last Tuesday. While the rest of us were sleeping, they produced 1032 widgets above their target. Then Kari and Harry had them packaged and on the loading dock for UPS by 3:30 a.m., resulting in an early delivery to Customer Alpha. Customer Alpha was so delighted, by the way, they placed an even larger order with us.” Add even more detail with photos of that team in action. Another variation to telling the story verbally is to post photos of people driving their trucks, helping their clients, or otherwise doing their great work with a bit of narrative so coworkers can learn about those don’t see every day.
Listening to Stories
Provide opportunities for story exchange by holding occasional events where people come together in person. It could be as simple as an afternoon ice-cream social which bridges two shifts. Incorporate some questions to give people a reason to talk with those beyond their regular work group. Get-to-know-you-bingo is a classic example in which people seek out another who “worked here when we opened this branch” or “has worked in 3 different departments” or “rides a motorcycle between offices.” Offer a small prize for the first person to complete a bingo. For teams that work miles apart, think about additions to in-person interactions that can surface interesting stories from each location to share with the others. Consider having the same event on the same day in different locations and invite a few gregarious people to play “roving reporter” to gather up a few tales and snapshots that can be shared.
Stories for Change
Stories can keep founding missions vibrant. Stories from that time when “we didn’t think we could do it but we did” can keep people connected to today’s current aspirations. Stories about successes as well as lessons-learned can help people connect to a healthy workplace culture and move it forward as old stories are retold and new ones emerge.
There is a growing field of organization development practices that draw on the powerful use of stories for workplace effectiveness. For more information about how Archbright’s organizational development consultants can bring their expertise to help your organization thrive, please contact your Archbright Account Executive at 206.329.1120 or 509.381.1635.