Why Should Leaders Have Good Storytelling Skills in Reorganizations or Restructurings?

Giving any information to the team as a manager is like acting in a theater. As leaders, our tone, facial expressions, and mimics set the audience’s feelings. We build stories to navigate people through the mist and bring them into the sunshine. In stories, people don’t follow words; they follow emotions. Using the proper tone in the statements becomes a way to influence people. Good storytelling skills help us give the message clearly and expose the correct feeling at the right time.

Especially making significant changes in the organization demands a clear understanding of the reasons and requires good storytelling skills to convince people. We must clarify that these changes are for the greater good, although they might not be the best for specific individuals. Stories empower these situations and enable the leaders to convey the reasons while setting the emotions right.

Stories’ strength doesn’t come from only the language we use but also the emotion that the information brings to the listeners—excitement, sadness, relief, frustration, and more. Like many stories, we want to arrive at a happy ending, but how we get there is often ambiguous.

Why The Story?

How we tell the story becomes as important as what the story is about. Even though the news may sound bad for certain people, we can positively impact them by choosing a sympathetic tone.

Organizational restructuring can be frustrating or exciting for different people. We can encourage people in a steep growth trajectory to leverage these organizational restructurings. Also, if we have folks who wish stability in the team, we can inspire them to see the advantages of restructurings.

On the other hand, when we choose a frustrated tone because people have to move to another team, everyone will be frustrated. Whatever style we choose will reflect on the other side.

If there is transparency and the team knows the background of the decision, it’s okay to rush to the story’s ending. However, if there is a lack of transparency, having the emotional roller coaster becomes the connection we have with our teams. We have to ride this rollercoaster with them to eliminate their fears. They have to feel the correct emotions at the right time. When we hurry and unnecessarily push people, we block their feelings—which can come out later on where we least expect.

The Tone of The Message

Leaders’ approach and tone in the team discussions impact the discussions’ fate. If we have bad news and announce it to the team in a frustrated mood, the team will get stressed and frustrated. However, whatever the announcement is, if we set the tone inspiring and optimistic, people will approach it more favorably. The essential part is choosing the tone and narrative.

Organizational changes are frightening but often necessary for growth. Wherever we announce changes, we should choose a positive tone. Sometimes we can be frustrated and sad because changes might come as top-down decisions, and maybe we will depart our ways with some people. However, it’s beneficial to choose our strategy of showing our frustration to the team. Finding the balance is complicated, and showing vulnerability is necessary to be authentic.

Reorganizations or restructurings are done for a good reason, either for the organization or the people—at best, for both. It’s better to show an optimistic view when announcing changes to the team, project, or organization. Hiding the frustration can motivate people to get on board.

Many leaders hide emotions under the “being professional” label. Being professional means doing your job and getting paid for it. Being professional doesn’t mean being emotionless; it means showing the right emotion at the right time and place.

Being mindful is the key here. Understanding the psychology of the team and people and preparing the message in the correct tone and words are crucial skills that any leader should master. A strategy for hiding or showing emotions should be developed by thinking like a storyteller. Depending on which story we’re telling people, our approach should always differ.

Narrative and Storytelling

Storytelling skill is often taught as presentation skill. However, it’s a bit different. Giving presentations improve storytelling, it’s true, but when we give information in the daily standup or weekly team meeting, our words and body language become our presentations in a limited time. We have to use them wisely.

Many software engineering leaders are analytical. They cut the chase and give the information without any stories. When we do this, we leave the emotions to the people. If the message doesn’t have any narrative, doesn’t guide people’s feelings, and it’s just on point, people will hear it with whatever emotion they have at that time. They will go into various unknown places and will be lost.

To eliminate chaos even before it occurs, we have to present the reorganization’s background, reasons, the execution plan, and the expected outcome in the correct order. Many leaders don’t even think about these different parts of a story, and their narratives create confusion. In which order we build the narrative depends on the situation and the people involved in the reorganization.

Whenever the narrative, the structure, and the tone are apparent, it gets easier to onboard in the restructurings. When we think about it, even non-fiction books and articles make us feel something. These articles and books keep our curiosity alive while feeding us with information. We’re neither writing a book nor an essay, but whatever we announce has to have the story elements to be impactful. Otherwise, it will be only an analytical statement that creates chaos and leaves everyone with mixed feelings.

Complement with listening to Managing Organizational Changes Podcast Episode, and reading Communicating Decisions In The Organizations, Bias for Action, The Decision-Making Pendulum.

Medium Length Last Updated: Mar 7, 2022