Friday, September 6, 2013

Creating a good organizational story for preserving institutional memory

I have not blogged for a long time now about organizational or institutional storytelling. This has been due to the fact that while organizational storytelling is still one of my interests, it has moved to the periphery of my research at the moment. Currently, I have been thinking more about libraries, library education, library consultants and social media. However, on September 5, 2013, I got the opportunity to apply my interest in organizational storytelling at a meeting of a student club, of which I was one of the founding members, I was assigned the task to tell a newcomer about the student club. However, it was on the next day, after waking up in the quiet of the morning that I reflected on what I did and extracted these key principles.

Principles for creating an organizational story

1. Occasion for storytelling - Linde (2009) argues that for an institution to engage in organizational storytelling, it needs to create an occasion for storytelling. It is at an occasion for storytelling that we engage in what Boje (2008) dubs reflexivity (which in my words simply means reflecting on an organization's past or history). In my circumstance, the trigger for the occasion for organizational storytelling was the occasion of answering a newcomer's question about the organization, the student group. As we undertook the task of socializing the new member, we conveyed to the member the organization's history, something that we never had to do before seriously, on seeing that the club was only 2 years old.

2. Structure the narrative - From a summer course on storytelling I learned how to better create a story structure. One of the most popular means of doing so is by using a timeline. So for my student group, I created a timeline dating back to when we first began to the present. This involved dating the timeline based on the tenure of the leaders of the student club.

3. Identify the main characters or actors- According to Gabriel (2000), all good stories have characters that are portrayed in a particular light. As such, in creating a well-written or oral organizational story, one must always identify main characters. Many such characters end up being the leaders of organizations (Gabriel, 2000). Hence for my case, I identified the leaders of the student group as the main characters. As a group we began to characterise these leaders, developing descriptions of each leader to describe their personalities and idiosyncrasies that they brought to the group or organization, and how they impacted the group or organizational culture of the student club.

4. Identify key events - With the timeline and the leaders plugged into the timeline, the next aspect is to identify key events happening to the student club during the reign or tenure of each of our leaders. 

5. Provide a moral for the story -  This is where I extracted a piece of "wisdom" or advice about the organization based on its past. This "wisdom" is usually a summary in a sentence or few that gives meaning to the organization's past or puts the past in some perspective. Organizational storytelling experts like Gabriel (2000) and Linde (2009) discuss the fact that stories rarely just communicate dry facts, but also opinion or interpretation. From my interpretation and experience, the moral of these stories tend to provide for new members a perspective or lens for understanding the past events and viewing the events meaningfully as well as for use for future reference in interpreting the present and future reality.

This concludes my reflections of what I did as I facilitated the student club in creating and developing its organizational story. I am hoping though, that a year from now, I can use what I have learned to create a course on this topic. (See a previous blog posting about my ideas related to such a course in Corporate online storytelling: for libraries?).


Boje, D. M. (2008). Storytelling organizations. Los Angeles: Sage. 

Gabriel, Y. (2000). Storytelling in organizations :Facts, fictions, and fantasies. Oxford ;; New York: Oxford University Press. 

Linde, C. (2009). Working the past :Narrative and institutional memory. Oxford ;; New York: Oxford University Press. 

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