Storytelling Ideas for Work Teams: 
A Mini Book Summary

Storytelling ideas for the workplace? The book “Squirrel Inc” opened my eyes to storytelling as an effective team building technique.

I picked up this book in the bookshop because as soon as I saw it, I thought to myself:

“This is not your average management or leadership book.”

Squirrel Inc. by Stephen Denning is an easy-to-read story. A little fable about cute furry squirrels, and their company, Squirrel Inc.

Squirrel Inc. is going out of business. It needs to change its business model to survive. But many of the squirrels who work there just don't see the need to do anything differently.

Sound familiar?

Denning introduces the idea of storytelling to change attitudes in the workplace.

The central character is a wise old bartender – he provides a listening ear to Diana, a team leader from Squirrel Inc. who complains that no-one is listening to her….. 

“ Did you try telling a story?” I ask.

“ Why would I do that?”

“ Because a story can communicate a 

new idea quickly, easily and naturally.”

“ Not in Squirrel Inc.,” she says.

“ Why not?”

“ Stories aren't serious,” she says. “Squirrel Inc. is. It's modern. It's 

analytic. It's sharp. It's focused on profits. It doesn't mess around. 

No emotional mush. No touchy-feely 

stuff. Squirrel Inc. would never go for anything like that.”

“ Did you ever actually try a story?” I ask.

“ It doesn’t matter,” she says. “ I know a story won’t work.”

Image courtesy of law_keven

One of the things I liked about the book is that it doesn't just tell you what to do. It describes how to use stories as a team building technique. And it gives you ideas on how to put the book's storytelling ideas into practice at your own company.

The bartender eventually convinces Diana, and provides some storytelling ideas for crafting a story to spark organizational change:

“The first step is getting clear on the purpose. What's the change you're trying to make?”

She looks at me intently. “OK, wise guy, what's the second step?”

“Think of an incident. An example where this has already happened successfully, at least in part.”

“You mean, make something up?”

“No. That's not going to work. You need a true story. It's the truth of the story that springs the listener to a new level of understanding. I'm talking about a real-life incident where this actually happened.”

The author explains that stories work with the right-side creative part of the brain.

Stories are refreshing, energizing. People might say they are interested in the numbers, the analysis. But if you tell them a story, they'll listen.

When you've got the listeners following the story, imagining what actually happened, they're using the right side of the brain. Then you can push their imaginations a step further. You can get them to extrapolate. You can say “ just think what would have happened if the story had continued into the future.” Or make clear what would have happened in the story without the change idea.

And therefore, you start the process of influencing behavior and attitude change.

As well as the storytelling ideas above, I also learnt a few other tips from the book.

  1. Focus on collecting and perfecting a few stories that work well with a broad range of audiences – rather than gathering a wide variety of stories.
  2. When performing a story
    • Immerse yourself in the language, habits, fears and dreams of your listeners.
    • Make the story fresh by reliving it as it is told.
  1. Select the right type of story (the author describes seven different storytelling ideas for organizations). For example:

    • A story to get people working together will be a moving story and will spark similar stories from the audience.
    • A story to transmit values will likely be a believable story describing how organizational leaders dealt with adversity.
  2. A leader can use a story to build trust and credibility:

    • Trust falls when people don't know who they are dealing with.
    • A leader who shares a personal story which describes their views on the world and how they developed those views, can help a team put a 'human face' on a manager.
  3. It can be very powerful to use stories to create a future, to communicate a vision for the team. However, focus on being brief and evocative. Not descriptive.

    • The future is unknowable so detailed stories describing how the future will unfold are usually not very believable.
    • Have the story point the general direction only.
    • Focus instead on being inspiring. Think Martin Luther King Jr: 
      “I have a dream…” or Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches ….”

In summary, I really enjoyed reading 'Squirrel Inc.' Its refreshingly original ideas made me think differently about how I communicate with my own team.

I think the storytelling ideas the book contains would be useful to anyone working with teams in the workplace. But in case you'd like another recommendation:

“ Steve Denning's work is an important reminder and great inspiration to all leaders who wish to connect with their employees on all the human dimensions required to create true followership.” ~ Mats Lederhausen, managing director, 

McDonald's Ventures, McDonalds Corporation.

See our related article:
“Benefits of Storytelling as a Team Building Technique” 

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