Successful Team Communication and Motivation with Storytelling

Madeleine Gritzbach, Friday 07 December 2018 | Reading time: unknown

What do the Mario Brothers and Harry Potter have to do with project management? How does the ‘The Hunger Games’ plot help you motivate your project team? Go find out!

Flatter, more open hierarchical structures and agile collaboration increasingly determine the daily routine of the project. This means that communication needs to be more and more emotional and motivating. The storytelling method helps you motivate employees and - more importantly - keep them motivated during the often lengthy course of the project. 

What is storytelling and why do I need it for my project? 

Storytelling means just that: you tell a story. In marketing, storytelling has already become a basic principle because a story (if it meets certain conditions) touches people emotionally and helps them memorize information better. In project management, this means that you integrate projects into stories familiar to your employees and personally motivate project team. In addition, key information is easier to retain if it is visualized in a story.  

In short: What motivates you more: Completing Quest 3 - the 'cornucopia' in the project "Hunger Games" or having to complete the task "budget negotiation" in the project "Finances 2019"?  

What is important for a story? 

As mentioned before, a story must meet certain conditions to actually be useful. If a story doesn't meet these conditions, it can quickly lead to the project's failure.  

The basic structure of each story is made up of one or more protagonists who pursue a goal. It should also take into account the four basic principles of storytelling: Authenticity, archetype, sensuality, relevance. 

The story should be authentic, i.e. it should be aligned with your company’s CI (=corporate identity) and it should appeal to your employees and your stakeholders. The relevance of the story should be clearly visible, using a familiar narrative pattern - e.g. 'hero/heroine saves world and gets a happily ever after'. This pattern could also be the plot of a movie or a video game. Ultimately, the visualization (of accompanying image and video material) must be clear - this happens automatically in our Hunger Games example. 

Won't my stakeholders feel taken aback when I tell them weird stories? 

Yes, open storytelling, maybe even introduced with the words: "Let me tell you a fairy tale", can lead to a negative reaction from some customers or stakeholders. If you aren’t sure how your stakeholders will react to your storytelling, avoid any introductory words and don’t take on an active narrator role. Start with short comparisons and paint a picture inside your stakeholders’ head: "When I talk about … it always reminds me of that time ..." can be an effective way to achieve this. On this basis, visualize a story together with the stakeholder. You might be able to convince stakeholders on an emotional basis without them realizing it. 

Marketing the Storytelling Method 

Often a good story alone is not enough to create the necessary motivation - it also depends on the right marketing of the storytelling method. The cornerstone is that you, as project manager, stand behind the method and communicate that to the outside world. You have to make your employees curious. Before the kick-off meeting, think of a character (protagonist) for your story. Then create a new project with your protagonist as the project picture, but don't let your team members know anything more about it yet. It is also best to set the date for the meeting with the cover picture only. The kick-off meeting will then start with a certain level of curiosity as to what exactly the project will be about.  

Then present the main features of the project and let your employees develop their own story around the selected character as a creative introduction. Once the employees are used to this procedure, ideas for stories will sprout before your project is even presented. With a self-developed story, in which the employees are personally involved, you ensure a positive basic mood during the course of the project.  

Why don't you try setting up your next project as a video game and package the tasks as individual quests? Or does the project structure resemble the plot of a film you could use as a story? Are there any favorite characters of your employees around whom exciting new stories could be developed? Or do you want to assign your stakeholders to certain characters? With each new project, a new story develops from the combination of the individual characters. What happens, for example, when the Grinch, Mary Poppins and Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean meet? Or imagine Mario & Luigi and Harry Potter fighting for resources. In any case, listen carefully to what your staff has to say, often several ideas for new stories will emerge in one meeting.  

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