Storytelling framework for change management

Far too often people are not given the space to explore their own narrative, to say nothing of empathising with the narrative of others within their team. The tensions around change projects are complex and emergent. What is left unsaid at the beginning of such projects can suddenly lurch from the darkness, catching people unawares, creating friction and disfunction at key moments that can tip a project toward failure. People can find themselves entrenched in a worldview that places their needs at the centre or the world, without considering the needs of others within the team or the wider world (organisations, customers, suppliers etc.). To help surface these tensions or disputes we use a method that we call “three views on a secret.”

A team meeting is called and in preparation everyone is asked to address the following:

1. You are meeting a close friend for dinner, a person who does not work in your organisation and someone you trust. They haven’t seen you for three months and they ask you how you feel about what is going on with this project. In as few words as possible, explore how you feel, what lies behind those feelings and the impact for you, your team and the wider world.(the causality).

2. They ask you what the future for you and your organisation could look like in 5-10 years time if things don’t change, what would you tell them? In as few words as possible, explore your views, the impact (for you, your team and the wider world) and the reasoning for your thinking.

3. Finally, they ask you how things could be if things changed for the better. Again, in as few words as possible, explore your views (for you, your team and the wider world), the impact and the reasoning for your thinking.

We ask that these stories be anonymous, typed and printed out on plain white paper – we have also facilitated by having the stories are emailed to us and we do the rest.

When the team comes together we provide three postboxes: “today,” “no-change” and “change.” Stories are posted or already sorted into the boxes and team members are invited one-by-one to draw a story from the “today” box and read it to the group. People are asked not comment, but to listen carefully to the stories. The team is then given time to personally reflect on what they have heard, taking note of how the stories (individually and collectively) have made them feel and what lies behind those feelings. The exercise is then repeated for the “no change” box and finally the “change box.”

We support this exercise by creating a timeline from the narratives, with a focus on the divergence in opinions between the “change” and “no-change” stories (storytelling can see positives and negatives surface around the need for change and the resistance to change). The group is then asked to discuss the impact the stories have had upon them. We move this forward to discussion around the gaps between the “change” and “no change” futures.

 From there they are challenged to explore divergence between the two future states and what needs to happen to bridge the tensions, in order to help create more of the positive and less of the negative stories within the team.

The stories are referred to throughout the project to see if the stories being told at any given moment are more or less aligned with the future they wanted to create. We also use the method to explore how the positive future they perceived at the outset is changing as the project progresses (emergent threats and opportunities).

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