Types of organisational narrative

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —March 9, 2005
Filed in Business storytelling

Until recently (yesterday actually) I have differentiated two types of organisational stories: those crafted to persuade an audience—this approach is typified by Steve Denning’s work at the World Bank and is called ‘Organisational Storytelling’; and stories that retell the day-to-day events which occur in a workplace—Dave Snowden popularised this view of narrative in his work on organic knowledge management and calls it ‘Organisational Narrative’.

The third type is a subset of Organisational Narrative and occurs when a person retells an experience so often that it becomes a performance piece. Let’s call this Rehearsed Narrative’. Rehearsed narratives come from natural storytellers who revel in honing their repertoire of anecdotes to achieve maximum effect.

The problems with this type of narrative are twofold:

1. the stories become polished over time and the messiness which might have existed at the outset is removed; and

2. other people in an anecdote circle, on hearing a rehearsed narrative, think they have to provide something similar and either attempt to match the performance or decline to provide any anecdotes.

Here are a couple of ways to deal with rehearsed narratives.

Make it clear from the outset of your anecdote circle that you are seeking the day-to-day experiences of what happens in the workplace. When you do hear what sounds like a rehearsed narrative, ask the other participants whether they recall the event and whether they would like to share their recollection.

While you don’t want to discourage the occasional performance piece, you don’t want it to scare off the rest of the group.

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About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Troy Worman says:

    Excellent post. Good insight. Thank you.

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