Here is an example of how our stories affect our potential as agents of organizational change.
Susan, the Director of Human Resources at a large paper company, was leading a project to implement self-directed work teams in her organization. She was bumping into some resistance, and asked me to help.
"Most people are really excited about what we're doing," she said. "But then there are the resisters." They don't want anything to do with teams. Mostly, the resisters are people who have been here more than twenty years. Every time they come to a meeting, I already know what they are going to say." As she said this she made a motion of pushing away with her hands.
I said, "Instead of calling these folks 'resisters,' suppose you think of them as people who are resisting this change at this time."
She considered this in silence for minute, then looked at me and said, "Wow. That makes a big difference. When I think of them as resisters, it's as if I have them all figured out, that they're just resistant to change. When I think of them as resisting this change at this time, I see them more as people. Maybe they have reasons for resisting."
I said, "Now, instead of thinking of them as resisting the change, what if you think of them as responding to it?"
Again she went silent. After a moment, she said, "Thank you! Now I know what I need to do!"
I talked with Susan several months later. She had met several times with the "resisters," and focused on listening carefully to what they had to say. After a few long discussions, together they came up with an idea that worked for everyone: These company veterans would become mentors. When new people joined the organization, the mentors would help them to learn "how we work in teams around here."
Experiment: Think about Susan's role in her initial story, the story about "resisters." If you were to name Susan's role, what would you call it? What about the company veterans' role? What would you call that?
Experiment: In Susan's later story, the story about meeting several times with the company veterans, what role did Susan play? What role did the veterans play?
Experiment: Notice that there is another story being told here: my story. What role did Susan play in my story? What was my role? What role, if any, did the company veterans play?
Experiment: Notice that by telling you this story, I am enacting yet another story: my ongoing story about you and me. What does my publishing this story, and my offering all of these experiments, tell you about the story I'm creating about you and me?
Experiment: What story are you creating about all of this?