Jumpstart storytelling – creating the conditions for collaboration

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 1, 2008
Filed in Business storytelling, Collaboration

When we start on a major change project we will often run a number of workshops with the leadership team to really get them to own and define the project. A big part of this activity is getting this group to collaborate and work as a team. In the past we have run sociometry exercises, anecdote circles and future backwards activities to get this group to gel. But I have a much better way now thanks to Seth Kahan’s jumpstart storytelling technique.

How to run a jumpstart storytelling session

  • Divide the participants into groups of 6
  • Ask everyone to provide a concrete and specific example in response to a story eliciting question that is related to the objective of the workshop or project. Most recently I ask a workshop participants to recall when they have been proudest of the work they or their colleagues have done?
  • Each person gets 90 seconds to tell their story.
  • When everyone in the group has told one story ask the participants to remember the story that was most powerful for them; what resonated the most. And ask them to remember who told that story.
  • Get everyone to switch groups to there is as many new faces as possible in their new group.
  • Ask everyone to retell their story they have just told. Because this will feel a little weird I suggested they observe how their story changes and improves in the retelling. Again 90 seconds per story. At the end of everyone retelling their story reassess which story you think is most powerful and remember the storyteller.
  • Depending on the size of the group you can switch groups again.
  • Now the fun begins. Ask everyone to remember the person who told the most powerful, relevant, engaging story and go over to them and place your hand on their shoulder and keep it there. After a while a network of people forms and clusters appear revealing the high impact stories. Invite the people the group chose to retell their story to the whole group. Lead the applause at the end of each telling.

The energy goes through the roof with this technique and people get to hear stories they have never heard before. Most importantly the group gets to know each other at a deeper level. There is one more advantage as well if your project is narrative based: the leaders experience the power of narrative in the first 5 minutes of the project.

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. joitske says:

    we did this too with Nancy Dixon and it worked very well indeed. It was fun! Afterwards I regretted not to have the guts to capture the ‘winning’ stories on a short video. Would have been a nice artifact.

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