During one of our most recent team days, the team and I explored the idea of social capital and its impact on our organisation. This activity came about because of one of our newest team members saying, “I wasn’t here then I don’t know about these things you guys are talking about”. In this the team member was referring to what we did before COVID, often they were even way before COVID.
In short, it was our history our story and the special stories that we shared with each other that recalled our past. In the telling of them what we were doing was retelling stories that deeply mattered, stories that created a narrative of our organisation, perhaps even its social capital?Such story telling implicates “the story-in-the-making” in the form of a stirring and unfolding of our organisational legacy.
We had realised for some time that COVID had been impacting on us but could not quite what it was. As the CEO and a person who had a responsibility for others, caring for them and guiding The Business Centre through all that we faced during COVID, I had become concerned about us losing cohesion, losing collegiality, and losing our greater purpose and value. This seemed to be coined in many online articles and discourse in the term “social capital”.
Whatever this “social capital” thing was it was only when we heard we were not passing on the good stuff about what we do, from team members we most recently recruited during COVID that we became aware that we were not sharing our legacy. How we appraised how we might pass in transit our “sought-after-future” of The Business Centre, we were not to know. What we did know was that there is a certain privilege and commitment to our “insider knowledge” and the stories that deeply matter and the dynamic interplay of them in generative thinking and the collective sense-making that they provided in those of us that knew this insider knowledge and how it played into our known identity of who we are.
What we did know was that there is a certain privilege and commitment to our “insider knowledge” and the stories that deeply matter. The dynamic interplay of them in generative thinking and the collective sense-making that they provided in those of us that knew this insider knowledge and how it played into our known identity of who we are.
So, to the activity we did to address our need to replenish our “social capital” caused by COVID, particularly in sharing our legacy with new staff and letting them in on who we knew we really are and how we value our work was as follows.
To bring the history and the “meaning making” of our organisation we had to do some thickening of the thin story that perhaps had been the result of COVID. We had to connect new people to our history, to each other and to the organisation in creating a human timeline. For us that meant writing on the walls the year in which we began as an organisation at the start at one end of the room and then added in each year written on the wall through to the present at the other side of our office. A physical calendar or timeline if you like.
We then added in key events like the Newcastle earthquake, the closing of BHP and the Pasha Bulka storm, along with broader key social events like the introduction of ATMs, online shopping and eBay, iPhones, iPads and the GFC. We then had our team write up on the wall key events, programs, and activities they could recall beginning to create a thicker story and our own timeline and stories of our existence added into the larger timeline and dates on the walls.
The last step in this activity, and perhaps the most salient and valuable one, was to ask each team member to stand next to the year they began with our organisation at a point marked by a date on the wall around the room. This is where we were then able, to not only have our team physically locate themselves in history as individuals, but also in the context of time alongside key historical events and activities as they related to each of us.
We were then able to see where each of us sat in this re-enacted timeline and shared story of our organisation together. These key dates and these larger and more personal events let us all then be able to bear witness to our ongoing and interpretive accomplishments, in our past, in the present and into our future.
I recommend this as a really good way to value legacy and share important stories of your business or organisation, not in written form or a “meeting”. In this way you might just bring legacy and stories that need to be known no matter how far back or close to the present they are, this may just perhaps replenish and re-recognise the value of your social capital.
CEO of The Business Centre
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