Trust is the secret ingredient of productive and joyful collaboration. But it’s hard to build trust if we are hiding behind a professional mask. It’s not just productivity we lose if we wear a mask, it’s the chance of being humane at work that we lose as well. If we have just shallow conversations in the workplace and don’t engage with each other in a truly meaningful level, we miss the chance to have a strong, understanding and whole workplace. Talking about weather or how tired you are every time you meet are hardly the ingredients to create a deeper friendship with someone. If we want a venue that is filled with trust, and to have deep, rich and meaningful relationships at work, we can start building it by revealing more of who we are to each other. One way to do this is storytelling.
Since the dawn of time, the practice of storytelling has been an essential element in building community and joining individuals by the means of shared narratives. For example the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia have their Dreamtime stories that have been passed down in an unbroken lineage, connecting spirit to people, people to place, place to culture, and embracing family, community and home country. Like a lost form of art, the power of stories bringing us together has been forgotten for far too long. They say the backstory of a cocktail is half the sale, so why don’t we share our own backstories to further our relationships with our colleagues?
You don’t have to overthink the concept of storytelling or somehow make the stories adventurous or hero-like. The stories I’m referring to here are stories about life in general; what has happened to you or someone you know; or anecdotes about how you experience the world. The benefit of these simple stories (or communication itself) is that they bring out the authenticity, values and gratitude the person sharing has experienced. Sometimes it’s the actual act of kindness described in the story that slightly opens the door to the storytellers self. Sometimes it’s the topic or the theme itself the person chose to share with others that gives away what the person values in life. Be brave and let someone into your bubble and give them a chance to understand you better.
Sharing a defining moment that has shaped you as a person is a simple way to allow others to understand you a bit more. You can incorporate meaningful (deeper) conversation starters to your weekly or monthly meetings or have dedicated value days or staff retreats to give time for a bit more extensive storytelling moments. Embody the practice to your recruitment process as well: existing team members can share a story symbolizing a wish for the new colleague (how to behave, what is expected of them, what they give in return, how they view the workplace and their relationships with the team members etc.) to create a foundation for the wholeness practice to grow from the get go,
One example of a brief and joyful practice is starting the day with a “good or new” story. New: something they are working on, noteworthy personal news, news they read while commuting to work or Good: work related or not, a moving story they want to share. This ritual acknowledges we are all here as team mates, individuals and human beings (adapted from Ozvision, a company with a world leading cloud video surveillance platform).
Ozvision in Japan has also experimented with another innovative approach to mood management called a “day of thanking”. Once a year a team member gets $200 from the company funds to thank someone special they know (a colleague, a family member, an old friend). The only rule is that when they come back to work after this, they have to share the story who they thanked, why and how it was received. This practice works on many levels, giving a great chance for the rest of the team to get a grasp of what is important for this person at that time. A day of thanking is more about the intention than the dollar amount.
I can see the Day of Thanking practice working in my future bar as well. Similarly to the Secret Santa concept, where everyone is randomly assigned a person to whom they give a gift and keeps it a secret, the bar team could receive a small amount of money every now and then (twice a year?) and spend it on someone they know (maybe even a colleague in need of cheering up). Instead of giving Christmassy knickknacks or a box of chocolates to someone, these gifts could be cherished and enjoyed any time during the year. The story behind a certain gift and how it was received can then be shared over a cold one after a shift or during mise en place.
Another practice I quite like is from the aforementioned Sounds True (a multimedia publishing company), where one of their team member started organizing the “Art Salon” events, where people could share their secret hobbies, photos, paintings, drawings or even their skills in singing or playing an instrument. Recognizing people as a whole, while not every hobby and interest can be incorporated into their work, can spark joy and a sense of community.
Through time, the storytelling in these meetings, events and value days can become a second nature to the team and spark an unexpected appraisal any day of the year. And most of all, these now commonly shared stories can ignite trust, understanding and deeper friendships between your mates at work.