Why Teams Need Storytelling Skills... and How To Use Art to Build Them

Leaders can create an awesome professional development experience for their team.

Professional development can catalyze learning and improve morale - and it doesn't have to cost a fortune.

Leaders just need the right goals and a simple process.

We used art like this at the MCA to catalyze team learning - keep reading to find out how.

I'll explain with a real-life example.

A few weeks ago when I first spoke to Lisa, a new client who owns a conference production company, I got excited. Not just because she wanted to hire me, but because of what she wanted.

Her goals were simple. She wanted her team to spend a day away from the office doing 2 things: 1) having fun and 2) learning important skills. 

Lisa wanted to know if I could lead them in a storytelling workshop and what that might look like for her group. Of course, I said, I'd be happy to help. I asked a few pointed questions to find out what's happening with the team.

Her team is solid. A few new people are learning the ropes, but all are good people who get along well. Not a lot of drama or big communication challenges. Yay!

Lisa's team checks out the exhibits at the MCA.


The team is small - less than 10 people.

Their business depends upon customer service, sales and marketing.

Every employee needs communication to do their job. 

Improving storytelling skills will get better results.

Plus, better communication creates less stress for management -- problems get solved before they happen. 

People stop avoiding crucial conversations when they gain confidence.

Great storytellers can explain a difficult situation and offer solutions in productive ways.

Great storytellers are confident and curious . That combination often leads to better relationships and more business success.

Chicago has lots of inspiring places to hold a workshop. I gave her a list of ideas and a proposed agenda.

We talked about the ways that learning could happen during the day.  We wanted to use the morning's activities to catalyze a great work session in the afternoon.

Lisa picked the Museum of Contemporary Art for our morning stimulation. We decided to focus on her business's core story in the afternoon.

Lisa swings on an art piece made out of materials from recently closed Chicago schools.


We planned a simple pitch exercise that would help the team learn from each other. One of my favorite exercises: exploring ways to explain the business to outsiders.

We set a date a few weeks out for the event, finalized a few details (like where we'd have lunch), and waited.

On the morning of the event, some of the team members looked a little nervous, but we got comfortable fast.

I talked for a few minutes about how contemporary art is all about risks. We talked about stories, risk, and creating experiences.

Quite often artists take risks that just don't work. Their messages don't reach people, and the meaning gets lost. That's partly why people often don't "get" contemporary art. It can be weird. It doesn't have to make sense.

This art piece is a hot air balloon that you can walk inside. It's pretty cool.

Definitely a new perspective on a familiar object.

Sometimes artists want to confuse people, or make them think. Some artists don't want you to "get" it.

An art piece is different than a conversation.

When you're talking to someone, you sometimes have the chance to hear them say "I don't get it." Then you can explain what you mean in a different way. 

An art piece is a one-sided conversation; it exists, and we observe it.

To enhance our storytelling skills, we must observe our own reactions. Observation opens up perspective to see how others see us.

I gave out papers and pens.

I asked everyone to record their feelings and responses to different pieces. We documented our emotional response so we could share together at lunch.

Chicago artist Nick Cave makes wearable art with rich meaning.

We discussed ways that the artists had created experiences and meaning from objects. The meaning of certain pieces only becomes clear once you read the descriptions.

Likewise, we must offer clear explanations to people every day. 

Without clear meaning, our stories are not understood.

During lunch, we held a focused conversation. We drilled down on the ways that Lisa's team was explaining their business to outsiders.

Lisa's team hard at work after lunch crafting their company's pitch.

As the outsider, my role is to ask a lot of questions that get people to think.

As an educator, I try to draw answers out of the group to catalyze team learning. I also provide time-tested tools, techniques and strategies.

In just a short time, we were able to hone a fantastic set of pitches for Lisa's business.

Everyone improved their ability to describe the company and the value it provides. 

We also generated a list of tasks for the team to complete and made a quick action plan before we wrapped up for the day.

"Thank you for a fun outing!" said the subject line in the email from Lisa.

"Thank you also for a valuable day last Thursday. A good kick off for my newer staff and reminder to clarify some key stories around our business."

Your stories must be clear to be understood. 

Food is one of my favorite kinds of art - this is the food we'll be eating at my next workshop.

Art can be an amazing way to get clarity on the story you're telling. Art gives us a chance to step outside ourselves, and into a new experience created for us by someone else. 

Want to clarify your story? 

Soon, I'll be leading a small group of talented professionals in a similar experience. 

We'll go through certain exhibits at the MCA.

We'll have valuable conversations about meaning, story and experience. We'll relate those to sales, marketing and customer service.

Holy cow - Pelago makes some good looking fish! Food art, right? 

We'll have an amazing lunch at Pelago in a private dining room. 

Around the table, we'll conduct a workshop on core storytelling for business.

I'll teach the art of the pitch, and how to better engage people to form the relationships you want to have.

Space is limited to 9 people. 

Save your spot now.

Or get in touch with me to create a custom learning experience for your team.

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