Getting Our Story Straight: The Stories We Tell Ourselves (Part 2)

My career in the restaurant business was short-lived but involved one night that seemed to go on forever. One of our chefs spent the time between the lunch and dinner shift drinking a whole bottle of vodka. By the time dinner was served, he was so inebriated he was wandering the kitchen wielding giant knives and threatening everyone who came in the kitchen. Those of us working in the front of the restaurant just kept smiling and refilling drinks like there was definitely not a security threat going on in the back.

We all made it home safe and the danger was mostly contained. But it has remained a picture in my mind of what workplaces can become. And as we’re all learning these days, it’s more common than we can imagine for work to go on out in front of a company while chaos reigns in the back.

But we may be inching our way closer to a world where stories like this happen less often. The #MeToo movement, the latest reflection of a world with higher accessibility and accountability, is changing the way we think of the work in front of and behind the scenes.

It’s a formative moment and like most of life, and the theme of several bookmarks and coffee mugs, we have the choice to see this as an obstacle or opportunity.

It’s a chance for all of us to make sure the kitchen, or the “kitchen,” is running smoothly.

Here are a few ways Story might help with the internal formation of our workplaces:

-Where do stories get told in your organization? What mechanisms are in place for the telling and listening of stories? We’ve all been hearing about workplaces responding with emergency seminars on sexual harassment but this is a chance to think in a deeper way about the way we all talk to each other.  What kind of space do we make to discuss pains or frustrations? Are we fostering the kind of honest space where difficult things can be said and addressed?

-What stories do customers and employees repeat?  Whether they are stories of victory or defeat, the stories that get retold shape who we become. Our tendency might be to ignore the stories we are tired of hearing but we could choose instead to ask why they keep showing up.

-Are there guiding stories in place to remind your organization of who they want to be and how they are serving the world? Shared stories help us to value each other. They give us metaphors that are more meaningful than job descriptions and office ranks. They can help us to navigate questions and concerns of power. They can help us see work as a place to refine us and our world.