How Stories About Your Workplace Shape Team CultureBy Sean Glaze

The content and tone of your workplace stories are powerful tools that can weaken or strengthen your team culture.

What your employees say to and about each other, about the jobs they do, and about the ultimate purpose of their efforts eventually becomes imprinted on everyone’s mind.

There is a little voice in your head, and the stories that your internal voice shares about your workplace will create and reinforce your experiences there.

Inspiring work stories are even more significant for new employees.

New employees listen to veteran’s work stories to learn about culture and get a more accurate feel for the work environment. New employees trust those stories and their opinions about the job they have and the value they provide are molded by those interactions.

Stories about your workplace create expectations about managers and teammates and customers. Stories that your employees tell will frame your new hire’s experience.

So, given that all employees tell stories about work—and realizing that those stories shape your workplace culture—what can team leaders do to influence the stories that will get told, repeated, and reinforced?

I share stories in my teamwork keynotes that illustrate the power of being coachable or connected or consistent, but it is stories from your employees and their experiences that will be told and retold as examples of what to do (or not do)…and those behaviors become your culture.

Don’t despair.

You can turn the tide and change a culture of negativity or apathy to a culture of passion and purpose by changing the stories that your people tell.

Help Cultivate Stories 

And yes, you really can…

There are four specific things you can do to inspire more positive and productive stories are told—and repeated—to help cultivate a better culture.

Discover what work stories are being shared now in your workplace. You can begin to change your culture by becoming more aware of your current situation. 

Listen and spend time around your people to hear some of their common narratives. 

Ask employees to share some of the stories they have heard.

This step can be both revealing and surprising, as you will develop a more clear picture of how stories are currently shaping your culture.

Share Positive Stories

Focus your managers and mentors on sharing new positive stories to inspire pride and purpose in employees. 

There are countless examples:

  • Ask your team about something great that happened. 
  • Ask them what they like best about your organization. 
  • Help them to shift their focus from problems to things that inspire pride.
  • Ask if they have seen or heard anything that relates to implementing team virtues you want to emphasize.

This will not happen overnight, but eventually you will see a change in their stories becoming more focused on positives as their mind becomes more intentional about noticing positives that exist around them. 

Tell your own personal positive stories. Be sure you are the best and most consistent example of what you want your people to do. 

Make it a point to include a positive story about your experiences in every conversation—and remember that leadership occurs one conversation at a time. 

Share your personal stories at meetings and around the coffee pot, and remain committed to reinforcing the culture with stories that you know will emphasize the values and behaviors you want repeated.

Find the Culture Heroes

Broadcast and publish stories about past organizational successes and of past heroes who personify the values you want to see. 

Whether you have an internal company newsletter, weekly email, or face-to-face daily focus session, take every opportunity to keep your team focused on what you want to see repeated. 

Talk about heroes in the organization who did great things (or small things in a great way), share the story of how your people overcame adversity in the past, and retell the story of why your company exists (it isn’t just profit—there is a deeper purpose that is always inspiring).

If you will spend time working through these four action steps—and if you are patient enough to give those actions time to grow, mature, and bear fruit—you will eventually see the impact of better stories making your company a better place to work.

Once you change the stories that you and your people are telling, you change their experience and their focus. 

Helping the team to become more aware and appreciative of positives will create a more cohesive and happy culture.

image credit: Ivelin Radkov

Sean Glaze

Sean Glaze inspires people to have fun laughing together so they can have more success working together.   His two books, The Unexpected Leader and Rapid Teamwork are powerful parables for building and leading great teams!

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