Places to meet for communities – an important ingredient

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 10, 2009
Filed in Business storytelling, Collaboration

Three weeks ago I arrived in London for a couple of weeks work and a couple weeks holiday. One of my must-see destinations was the water pump in Broadwick Street, Soho, which was the main contamination source for the 1854 cholera outbreak (my family think I’m crazy). This pump is also the star attraction on John Snow’s famous map showing the geographic distribution of deaths from the cholera outbreak and is one of the earliest example of epidemiology (in case you were wondering, I studied geography at uni). So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the pump to find it was also a community of practice meeting spot for Soho cycle couriers.

Broadwick Street Pump

I wandered about the pump for a while taking photos (to the cyclists’ amusement) and listened to their conversation, which of course consisted of telling stories of what happened in the morning and over the week. Nothing written down, no social software, just oral storytelling.

Finding or creating these places for community in organisations is an important step is supporting communities of practice. Ideally they should be somewhere you can eat, chat informally and know that when you arrive, there will be other people just like you to share your stories with.

You might be thinking, but what if my organisation is distributed and we can’t get everyone in one place? Well, do what the London taxi drivers do, form clusters across the network to tell your stories. Here’s a photo of one group of taxi drivers who meet on Russell Square (there is a little group of them behind the silver taxi).

Taxi drivers meeting

To link across the small groupings the taxi drivers use technology: blogs, newspapers, websites, radio.

Meeting in small clusters for oral storytelling and linking across these clusters for wider knowledge sharing might be a useful pattern to adopt in organisations.

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:

3 Responses to “Places to meet for communities – an important ingredient”

  1. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Just a follow up thought. Working with Victoria Ward and the Sparknow folks I’ve become much more aware of how important notice boards can be in the workplace, especially if they are used beyond posting OH&S notices. Noticeboards should also be part of these CoP clusters where people gather. Nice way to pass on ideas from one sitting to another.

  2. Tanya Says:

    Hey Shawn,
    I agree with you on these little community hotspots for telling stories. I go to a place here in Halifax, NS, Canada called The Commons, to walk, run, frisbee everyday with my dog, Rumba. All kinds of other dog owners show up throughout the day as well for the same purpose: to walk their dogs, but its amazing the information and stories we share while we are there. Its also in an area of town where The Commons divides the lower class area from the more affluent classes so as a result there is a fantastic mix of people communicating with each other.
    I’m in the midst of writing a social work paper on how storytelling increases civic engagement for social change and just watched/listened to one of your slideshows. Thank you…very helpful.

  3. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Love to read your paper when it’s done.

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