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I was eating dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Boston, glowing in the company of my beautiful fiancée Cindy. We were engrossed in an enthusing discussion of our future together and wedding plans. Despite the fact that I am not a detail person by nature, I took great pride in carefully collaborating with Cindy to architect every aspect of our ceremony and reception. I never knew either one of my grandfathers. Although Grandpa Francesco died when my mother was a little girl and she has few memories of him, he has played an important role in my life. I wanted grandpa to be a part of our wedding ceremony. Cindy suggested I find something that belonged to my grandfather and bring it to the ceremony. I thought this was a great idea. After a long search, my Aunt Maria produced the only possession of my grandfather known to be in existence. It was an old rusted pocket knife that he used to carry around with him everywhere. The knife prompted a flood of memories for my mother and aunt. They recalled how during the great depression my grandfather would entertain six children by cutting a piece of fruit with the knife and telling stories. Ah stories. . . .
1. Create a safe and fun vehicle for people to share something personal. 2. Use an object to trigger stories. 3. Gain insight into stories that have had a formative impact on us.
• Each participant brings an object of personal significance
Three minutes per person, plus five to ten minutes for debriefing
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1. Ask people to bring in an object that has personal significance to them. Explain to people that they will need to share a story about the object. 2. Begin the activity the next day by sharing an object of your own and stories associated with it. 3. Have people take turns sharing their objects and stories. 4. Debrief the experience.
• Even for people who claim to have no stories, this activity shows them that they have stories that are interesting to others and that overlap with the stories of others. • After you go through everyone’s stories, give people a chance to comment on their observations and reactions to the process. More stories and insights surface during this part of the discussion. • Why do personal objects invoke strong feelings? The objects by themselves have no power. They are triggers for our memories and experiences. They are gatekeepers to layers of subjective meaning. Our stories give us direct access to these constructs. Through our stories, we have the control to revisit formative events during which we have acquired some of the raw ingredients comprising our emotional makeup. Objects help us to materialize and solidify our stories. They are monuments we erect for ourselves and others to see. They give us something tangible to share with others. When we revisit personal objects of importance through dialogue, it promotes insights. It allows us to connect our experiences to the experience of others. • Do you feel a different dynamic in the group after this activity? People will feel closer. Sharing a personal object and the stories associated with it opens us up to each other. The boundaries we are accustomed to maintaining between ourselves and others are broken down. We become more real and accessible to each other when we are vulnerable. An external object provides us with the means to share something personal. It doesn’t feel onerous. Being vulnerable satisfies one of our greatest needs—we want to feel accepted by others and connected to them. Groups will warm up to each other after this activity. We become more interesting in each others’ eyes.
• Ask people to bring in a piece of music that has personal significance. • Ask people to share a quote or passage of writing that has significance. You may want to lay down some ground rules for this variation. If you feel anyone
in the group would be offended or ostracized by a religious quote of any tradition, request that people refrain from using them. • Do the activity in groups of four. Have each group select one person’s object and stories to share with the group. Someone else in the group must share with the group at large his or her group member’s object and stories. • Use this activity as a working lunch activity. Turn it into a potluck lunch where every person brings in a dish (or at least a recipe for the dish) that has personal significance to them and shares the stories associated with it. • For a short, fun, yet interesting twist, ask people to select an object from their workplace environment. This can yield a revealing and engaging discussion about the organization’s values, ethos, and current state of affairs. • Have everyone bring in their objects in bags. This adds an element of surprise and prevents people from learning who the owner of an object is. Lay out all of the objects on a table in front of the group. Have people guess who each object belongs to. Tally the votes and then lead a short discussion during which people throw out stories that they think might be associated with the object. Ask the person who belongs to the object to identify him/herself and share his or her story. • Instruct people to write down the stories associated with their objects. Set up all the objects on a table. Make copies of all the stories and hand them out. Give people ten to fifteen minutes to walk around the table and read the stories—in silence. Then give people ten to fifteen minutes to mingle with each other. Instruct people to speak with a person whose object or story resonated with them. Have them explore this connection. Debrief the group at large at the end.
• This activity will generate vulnerability without forcing it. People will feel closer to one another. Use this to the group’s benefit. Avoid trying to artificially sustain the community feeling people will have after this activity. Instead, the energy of this activity allows you to help a group surface its differences. You do not need to surface differences with a group if the session’s objectives or your comfort level does not permit it. This is a fun, feel-good activity that promotes new bonds, a new appreciation for one another, and that illustrates the communication power of stories are a great set of outcomes—you can stop there. However, if you need to work through any challenging issues, this activity preps the group for such work. • Gentle teasing is an excellent way to soften the threat of vulnerability for people who might feel overwhelmed by the personal nature of this activity. Better
Once Upon a Time
yet, try to goad and guide the group to kid one another and laugh with each other. • When people share a story, try to get them to tell more than one by asking probing questions. This will help them discover new insights and relationships between their stories. • If the majority of the group is engaged and the energy level is high, the activity is working well. If you sense any detachment or boredom from any members of the group, it is most likely a defense mechanism. It’s unlikely you will succeed in reaching a person responding this way. Rest assured the activity will still have an affect, even if you do not get to see its impact.
1. This is a great team-building activity that can be used in a variety of situations. 2. Incorporate the activity as part of a project kickoff meeting. 3. Use this activity at the beginning of a standing meeting. This even works for virtual meetings (e.g., conference calls or web-based formats). For this application, especially if it’s virtual, I like to ask people to share a quote with the group and a story around it. I then give people an opportunity to respond to the quote and explore any applicability of the quote to the group, its work objectives, and the meeting’s agenda. Take comments only and don’t be drawn into a long, protracted discussion. Reserve the full discussion for its appropriate place in the meeting.
At the end of the second day of a five-day leadership retreat I was leading, I gave people the assignment. Jack, a vice president of operations and a no-nonsense kind of guy, gave me a funny look, but didn’t say anything. A major thrust of our discussions during the retreat centered on the importance of relationships. One of Jack’s goals at the beginning of the retreat was to learn new ways he could foster more open relationships with his staff. This was confirmed by the 360-degree feedback surveys I had collected and the interviews with his staff that I had done. After sharing an object and story of my own, I asked for a volunteer. I was surprised when Jack was excited to go first and walked to the front opening of the large oval, U-shaped configuration of chairs. Jack produced a small plaster foot impression from his pocket and began to tell us his story: Seven years ago, little Rudy was born. My sister’s husband died in a tragic accident before the baby was even born. She pleaded with me to be a father to her unborn child. I had no idea what that meant. I was a bachelor at
the time and had no intention of having children. I took her earnest request to heart, but I turned out to be a pretty mediocre surrogate father. Poopy diapers were not my thing. While I was as loving and supportive of my sister as best as I could be, I really didn’t have a clue how to be there for Rudy and her. I kept telling myself and her that when Rudy was bigger it would easier for me to play a more active role in his life. I talked about the football and baseball games we would go to.Three weeks after Rudy’s second birthday, he died. Rudy’s heart never developed properly, despite doctors’ best efforts. Rudy and his mom gave me this plaster foot as a Father’s Day present. I keep it in my bedroom as a reminder. I’m a father now and not a day goes by I don’t think of Rudy and vow to be the best father I can possibly be to my son. When I went home last night I was afraid to share this plaster foot and its poignant story with you, but I realized something. I am guilty of doing the same thing at work sometimes that I did with Rudy and his mom. I don’t want to repeat the same mistake in a different area of my life. There was a stunned silence in the room and Jack, who had been holding his emotions in check, walked back to his seat and put his head in his hands.
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COMP VIDEOS & CONVERSATION STARTERS
These are distinctive, stylized short nuggets of organizational poetry offered to clients and prospective clients to encourage people to dialog about themes prevalent in Organizational Development work. Recordings of webinars and keynotes round out this collection of videos. These offeran authentic and personal snapshots into me. Even transcational and bottom line work is first and foremost relational. I want you to know a little about who and how I am. For those that resonate with these I gaurantee we will have a mutually gratifying and productive engagement.
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AUTHOR BIO Terrence L. Gargiulo, MMHS is an eight times author, international speaker, organizational development consultant and group process facilitator specializing in the use of stories. He holds a Master of Management in Human Services from the Florence Heller School, at Brandeis University, and is a recipient of Inc. Magazine's Marketing Master Award, the 2008 HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HRM Congress, and is a member of Brandeis University’s athletic Hall of Fame. He has appeared on Fox TV, CN8, and on CNN radio among others. Highlights of some of his past and present clients include, GM, HP, DTE Energy, MicroStrategy, Citrix, Fidelity, Federal Reserve Bank, Ceridian, Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual, Dreyers Ice Cream, UNUM, US Coast Guard, Boston University, Raytheon, City of Lowell, Arthur D. Little, KANA Communications, Merck-Medco, Coca-Cola, Harvard Business School, and Cambridge Savings Bank. Web: http://www.makingstories.net Video: http://www.vimeo.com/user2343092/videos Blog: http://makingstories-storymatters.blogspot.com/ Twitter: @makingstories Email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone – 415-948-8087
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