Project Management Institute

Gather Round

The Right Stories Told in the Right Ways Can Build a Project's Culture and Unify Teams



By Karen Smits

The power of storytelling is timeless. It's one of the most effective and influential communication techniques. Whether you call them plans, scripts, models or narratives, stories explain how things work, how we make decisions or justify them, and how we persuade others. They define and teach cultural values—and help us find common ground.

Stories can help launch a project, too. They provide project managers a unique opportunity to explain the project's values, goals, and written and unwritten standards. There are no formal rules about how project professionals should create their stories, but these guidelines can help.

Define your audience. Every aspect of your storytelling strategy should be cognizant of the audience.

Use personal experience. Your life experience can illustrate and humanize your message.

Find the hero. The main subject should be someone you know, lessons you've learned or events you've witnessed. If possible, make the audience the hero.

Express yourself. Don't skimp on emotion. Use facial expressions and body language to engage listeners. But don't distract the audience with inessential details.

Use your own words. For authenticity, use a language that's natural for you and your audience.

Deploy Your Stories

A story means nothing if no one hears it. So once they are created, share the stories with the team, stakeholders and clients so they become part of the project culture. Big-picture stories, like the project's charter or mission, can be told at both small and large events, such as the kickoff meeting, status meetings, milestone celebrations and project closure events. Repetition is important for a story to stick. In my experience, people are quicker to act on stories when they are delivered via multiple channels.

For virtual teams, I suggest using more visuals and video conferencing so people can see facial expressions when listening to the story. And don't forget to monitor the response to the stories. If the audience does not seem to respond to a story, adjust the storytelling strategy.

Finally, as you create and deploy stories, keep one rule of thumb in mind. A story describes what happened, a good story shows what happened, and a great story allows an audience to feel what happened—or in terms of your project team, feel what will happen as it gets the job done. PM

img Karen Smits, PhD, is an organizational anthropologist working at Practical Thinking Group in Singapore. She can be reached at
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



Related Content