March 8, 2021 Carole Levy

Storytelling strengthens “culture-glue” in a virtual world

A key ingredient that can ultimately determine whether or not a team within an organization will achieve its purpose, is its glue

WHAT IS THE GLUE?

The glue bounds people together and makes them feel that they belong in their organization. 

The glue implies a fundamental sense of safety that, if/when we take a risk – or unintentionally are exposed- we won’t be embarrassed, shamed, punished, blamed, let down or let go.  

The glue maintains cohesion when circumstances are unstable, shaky or messy. That is often the case!

Think about taking a risk at work. For instance: 1- asserting your controversial opinion during a meeting, 2- admitting an embarrassing mistake, 3- humbly confessing when you don’t know the answer, 4- asking for help when you don’t exactly know what you are asking help for, 5- holding someone accountable for deviating from an agreement, 6- naming a icky moment or even the elephant in the room, 7- flagging a troubling issue without having a solution,  8-asking for feedback about a performance, 9- checking negative assumptions before they become fixed conclusions, 10-cracking a joke at the wrong time, 11- calling out somebody who is using stereotypes, 12- emotionally connecting to others with empathy… We take risk ALL THE TIME!

The glue within an organization even allows for honest communications about when it’s time for someone to separate. 

WHAT CREATES THE GLUE? 

Belonging cues* create the glue: eye contact, proximity, pitch of voice, mimicry, taking turns, body language, gesture of service, saying “thank you”, saying “good morning”, hearing everybody’s voice in a meeting… 

Belonging cues are behaviors that create safe connections within groups. They signal to others that we are engaged in the relationship, that we see each other as a unique and valued member of the organization and have a future together. 

WHAT UNDERMINES THE GLUE?

Obviously, with Covid-19 and a radical transition to remote work, it’s more challenging for individuals to display belonging cues in their organization. Screens flatten human interactions. We don’t bump into each other by accident on zoom, notice something in a colleague’s eyes and point it out. Furthermore, on screen, our brain is usually distracted from connecting with others by managing the thousand and one visual signals displayed on our computer, not the least of which is how we look.   

So, the cohesion of the group relies less on subtle energetic signals that we share when we are in the same physical space and more on concrete verbal, and intentional communications.

In our work at The Trust Factory, we’ve been brought to explore new ways of establishing cohesive and safe cultures in a virtual world. One key ingredient in creating the glue is dedicating time for personal stories.  

STORYTELLING BUILDS THE GLUE

Stories go beyond points of view; they illuminate human truths, archetypes, emotions and invisible forces that ultimately influence how we relate to each other.

Stories can tell about successes, failures, inspiration, calling, mentorship or worship. Stories can point out issues of identities – race, nationality, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, language, class… Stories can evoke our ancestors. Stories can reveal our tensions, contradictions, rage, shame, sadness, joy and gratitude.

I’m a believer in the magical, transformative power of words and stories: they contain our vital energy and emotions. But from a more rational neuro-science perspective, when people tell their stories, and name the unspoken, it helps our forever-vigilant-brain relax into a mode of connection, instead of projecting threats and assumptions. 

Since Homer and even before him, storytelling has always been culture-glue. Nothing is new in humanity, neither under the sun nor in front of our screens. 

*See The Culture Code, the section about Building Safety.

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