Build A Strong Team Culture with Internal Storytelling

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You've done all the textbook steps to build a strong team culture—the mission statement is polished, team-building activities are executed, and even the company swag is disseminated.

Yet something's still off. Have you tried internal storytelling? While external storytelling is often emphasized, internal storytelling is another key factor in building a strong team culture.

Commons Factors that Don't Build Strong Team Culture

These are common reasons why a team culture might suffer, based on general knowledge and my experiences before starting BairStories:

Lack of Clarity:

When goals, roles, or expectations are unclear, it leads to confusion and frustration. Team members feel aimless and unmotivated, unsure of how their work fits the bigger picture.

Communication Silos:

Without open information sharing, teams become fragmented. This isolation breeds distrust and prevents access to valuable knowledge that could enhance work.

Unhealthy Competition:

Cutthroat competition destroys collaboration and trust. Team members focus on personal gain over collective success, hindering teamwork.

Lack of Recognition and Appreciation:

Feeling undervalued demotivates team members. They lose the drive to excel without recognition, leading to a stagnant work culture.

Toxic Leadership:

Micromanagement, bullying, or unsupportive leadership creates stress and disengagement. Team members feel fearful and are less likely to contribute their best.

Work-Life Imbalance:

When work intrudes on personal life, it causes burnout and resentment. Productivity drops, and team members are more likely to leave.

How to Use Storytelling to Build Strong Team Culture

Storytellers using post it notes

Focus on Stories Behind The Values

Culture is often framed as a collection of shared values, but the stories we tell internally breathe life into those values. Values without stories are just words. Bring those words to life with stories of team members who go the extra mile. That's your authentic company culture right there.

Suggested Story Type: Who I Am

As Annette Simmons suggests, a "Who I Am" story can be compelling. It lets others know what you stand for. Look for "Who I Am" stories among your team members—stories where employees have gone beyond their job descriptions to embody one of the company's core values. Simmons says this story type "helps listeners to trust that you and your message are what you say they are."

At BairStories, for example, I’ve seen firsthand how treating contractors honestly and fairly can create a trusting relationship. Inspired by Philippians chapter 2 (considering others more important than ourselves), this has fostered strong relationships even when budgets fluctuate.

This practice of prioritizing fair treatment resonates with findings in organizational behavior, where balancing individual flexibility with structured rules enhances team performance and trust (Canales, Yale Insights).

Leverage Common Storyline to Build Trust

Unity is more than group photos for Instagram; it's part of a compelling narrative. In internal storytelling, trust grows organically when your team sees themselves as characters in a collective mission. Well-told internal stories can improve trust and outcomes within teams, supporting your claim about the importance of a common narrative.

Suggested Story Type: Why I Am Here

Annette Simmons's "Why I Am Here" stories align with this idea perfectly. "Why I Am Here" stories focus on the joint mission and vision that bonds the team. This story type illustrates that you share a common interest with your listeners".

Our emotive storytelling projects, like Uncharted Dreams and the Environmental Initiative Awards, showcase our ability to create compelling narratives that resonate deeply with audiences and clients, fostering unity and trust within the team.

Insights from healthcare team dynamics show that effective team storytelling and communication can improve overall outcomes (King, Yale Insights).

Use Creative Power with Narrative Thinking

Switch the lens: see challenges not as isolated incidents but as plot points in your organizational story. By thinking narratively, you don't just solve problems—you scoop up opportunities. It turns stumbling blocks into stepping stones, instilling a sense of collective empowerment. It's more than an attitude; it's a toolset that opens the door to innovation.

Suggested Story Type: Vision Stories

When you shift your perception of problems to viewing them as plot twists in your story, you open the door to innovative solutions. This concept resonates well with Simmons's "Vision" stories. Find "Vision" stories demonstrating how a setback led to a creative solution that aligns with the organization's broader goals.

This approach mirrors findings that understanding team dynamics and social interactions can significantly impact outcomes, as seen in the healthcare industry, where improved team coordination directly influences patient care (King, Yale Insights).

Celebrate Your Staff

Enterprise Holdings: How One Woman’s Personal Struggle Inspired Volunteerism at Her Company

Celebrate the team members who've shown innovation and grit. The more these stories circulate within your organization, the more they set the stage for how everyone else should act. Recognizing our team members like George, who remained committed through varying budgets, helps set a standard of excellence and integrity within our organization.

Conclusion

The stories you share are the building blocks of your organizational culture. Intentional internal storytelling breathes life into your values, unites your team around a common mission, and empowers creative solutions. By sharing stories that highlight your values, illustrate your mission, and celebrate individual contributions, you create a vibrant, trusting, and innovative work environment.

What stories are you telling within your organization, and how are they shaping your team culture?

Learn more about the 6 essential stories you need to tell with examples.

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We're a storyfirst film and video production company, based in Minnesota, specializing in emotive stories that elevate empathy, community, and funding. 

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