Use stories to communicate the value of collaboration

Posted by Mark Schenk - January 29, 2009
Filed in Business storytelling, Collaboration, Communities of practice

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In the previous two posts (Shawn’s on his forthcoming presentation and Chandni’s about collaboration between Google and P&G) have used specific examples to illustrate how collaborative practices can add value to an organisation.

In many cases, the value of collaboration is difficult to articulate using numbers. We (not surprisingly I guess) strongly advocate that organisations systematically identify, collect and communicate their collaboration ‘success stories’. Our experience is that these stories are critically important when the inevitable question gets asked about why we are investing in collaboration. We have developed a CoP Health Check and stories are a key part of this process.

A recent article in the Washington post (via Seth Kahn and the Working Stories list) describes how an Indian company has a ‘chief belief officer’ who uses mythology to help managers make meaning of their roles. A quote from the article is very relevant given the way many companies are reacting to the global financial crisis

He likens layoffs to the slaughter of cows, which Hindus revere as symbolizing life. “The standard Western management principle is ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,’ ” Pattanaik said. “In our ethos, ‘if you measure it, you destroy it.’ ”

We have blogged previously about the fallacy of the ‘if you can’t measure it …” mindset previously. But for those with roles related to collaboration etc this can be a nervous time as companies look to shed staff to save money. Word on the street is that some of our friends have already been ‘made redundant’. It might look good on the P&L, but it can also be like draining the life-blood out of organisations.

Stories help us communicate value when things can’t be measured, and they are powerful tools in persuading people and changing their minds. As an example, some time ago, Rio Tinto produced a video on one of their success stories and made it publicly available (I notice it is now available on YouTube). We have used this video extensively as it provides a concrete example of how collaboration creates value and how communities of practice can operate. In late November, I met with a CEO who had been tolerating the creation of communities of practice in his professional services firm. I showed him the Rio Tinto video and his face lit up and he said “I get it. That’s what I want. Why didn’t I get shown this video years ago?”

So, if you have lots of metrics but not many examples it might be time to sniff out and articulate a few success stories.

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