An organization is a collection of individuals, who agree to come together to achieve a common mission or vision. Whether this is a business vision or a social calling, the success or failure of the organization in achieving this will be largely determined by the nature and quality of the stories which are being told within the group.
Each of us has built our life on the basis of our personal story – a collection of ‘rules’ by which our self-created, self-identity functions in life. When several personal myths come together in a group, an interesting phenomenon happens. Those with the strongest beliefs and stories, start to create a magnetic energy around them to which others will gravitate. ‘Group Think’ occurs. The strongest stories take hold and become adopted by everyone in the group, whether they match with the goals and aspirations of the individual personal stories or not. People who are predisposed towards a certain story (because it resonates with some of their core personal beliefs) will be strengthened by the story and become emboldened, empowered by it. People for whom the stories do not resonate will either leave the group or (because they have other beliefs running about the need to belong or their own relative weakness) will subjugate their personal beliefs to the mass. As a result a tribal myth is created. The process happens in all areas of life. In a business setting we often hear the result described as the ‘organisational culture’.
The stories of the leaders within an organization are vitally important in determining the performance, motivation and daily impact of its people. But the way those stories are then repeated in many different forms, around the coffee machines and the water coolers and to the outside world, are vitally important in either supporting the stories of the leaders or dramatically undermining them. I have seen many a cultural change initiative stand or fail on the basis of the underlying stories that form the ‘actual’ enacted beliefs and behaviors in the organization.
Just as with our own personal stories, we always have the choice to become aware of the roles that we are playing within the larger narratives of the organisations with which we are associated. As leaders, once we identify the stories that are being created and enacted by our people every day, we have the powerful ability to shine a light on these stories and collectively re-write our myths. Once seen, organizational stories can be re-crafted with new outcomes, new characters and new challenges that overcome the ‘monsters’ of status quo and history to guide our teams towards a happier journey and ending for us, the organization and its customers.