The Role of Storytelling in Building Trust and Relationships at Work

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When handling major initiative within the organizations, businesses rely on extensive and diversified teams. Most institutions consider teamwork as a simple concept and easy to implement. Nonetheless, the reality is that it requires work, collaboration, and partnership. The strength of the teams is based on working together and trusting each other (Cleverly-Thompson, 2018). Communication is also key. From the case study, British Petroleum (BP) disaster, there was no communication despite some employees knowing about the spillage before the incident. Employees are organization vital and irreplaceable assets, and when engaged and communicated on matters affecting the business, trust and collaboration are built. After the disaster, people died because there was no communication. There are different ways of building trust and relationship to foster cooperation among the employees.

Building Trust and Relationship at Work

            Engaging employees in trust building and team building activities are essential in fostering appropriate relationship at work (Ludmila, 2013). Employees work together to ensure organizational efficiency. Therefore, sincerely engaging the employees and involving them in team building activities assist in creating a networking platform to understand the nature of each other. If the workers were not comfortable with the BP management but had built trust and understanding among them, they would have shared the information on leakage and consequently, save the lives of others. Cleverly-Thompson (2018) opined team building helps to break the monotony and enhance employee integration, enthusiasm, and positive morale. Team building is also an opportunity for employees to learn from other and turn some of the weaknesses to strength through the influence of the other employees. The central expectations for team building activities are that they build trust and relationships. Team building presents significant benefits including strengthening teamwork and boosting performance, networking and understanding each other.

            Ludmila carried out a researched and revealed that communication is also key to building trust and relationship among the employees (2013). In most businesses, top-down communication approach is used: top management makes decisions. Such form of leadership creates a disconnect within the organization, which makes it hard to communicate important issues. In the case of the BP disaster, some employees knew about the spillage but failed to communicate the incident. An open communication channel allows junior employees to pass information freely to the top management without barriers. When there is open communication, trust and relationships are built. Each worker wants a friendly environment: they need to talk, be happy, and work comfortably with each other. With open communication, workers learn from each other. Without trust and teamwork within the organization, communication might fail. Management needs to listen to learn from their employees as a way to value their feelings and ideas. According to Cleverly-Thompson, trust and relationships are established and cultivated through actions and words, and more essentially maintaining them over time (2018). At team levels, trust and association involve ensuring adequate communication, collaboration, competence, and commitment. These practices are achievable through social interactions. Communication among the employees and management should be consistent and meaningful to prevent cases of miscommunication.

            Establishing employer-employee confidence is vital to enhance trust and relationship (McAllister, Lewicki & Chaturvedi, 2006). Employee confidence should be transparent. Losing confidence in employees in the workplace means losing trust. With such gaps, there could be devastations although it is not the end of efficient institutional operations. The management could reopen the door of trust and establish the needed relationship by acknowledging the shortcomings. The ability of the managers to inspire and motivate the employees depends on the level of trust. With trust within the organization, employees become confidence in their decisions. Confident at work is built through honesty and being supportive. However, modern practices do not consider the needs of the employees, which lead to discrepancies in the management mechanisms. Leaders should understand what workers need to know and communicate facts while considering their efforts and sensitive feelings. Confidence is built through allowing employees to air their views, supporting them, and when mistakes are made, leaders should correct them in a way that does not affect their morale and confidence in the organization. Based on the case study, BP’s engineers had problems with Halliburton engineer assigned to the Macondo well. Halliburton completed its work before knowing that the cement was stable. Should there have been sufficient confidence among the engineers of both companies, the 11 lives lost would have been saved. Management needs to have trust in their employees with certain decisions to develop their level of confidence.

The Use of Storytelling to Build Trust and Relationships

            In the recent years, there have been tangential shifts in the way communication occurs within the organization. Stories are powerful methods of communicating messages. Studies have revealed that humans respond quickly to the explanatory powers associated with the stories. Through stories, people gain power for various reasons: good storytelling assists to generate shared joy and levity, which are critical in building strong ties within social networks. Storytelling has been associated with activation of various brain functions which enable employees to convert the presented ideas in the story in their thoughts and experiences. As a result, it makes contents in communication highly personal and relatable. Storytelling also creates a mirror pattern in the brain allowing the listeners to experience the same brain activity, which in turn builds understanding and motivation among the employees. The process of storytelling is powerful considering that way it echoes and stimulates healthy attachment between people (McAllister, Lewicki & Chaturvedi, 2006). There can be no attachment without building trust and relationship. Through eye contact, emotional attunement, and various aspects associated with non-verbal communication, it easy to form strong attachments and secure links. Thus, storytelling makes it easy to identify and deal with organizational issues.

            Storytelling is a two-way communication system: it involves speaking and listening and the simplest way to engage the workers and a natural way to learn about their feelings (Auvinen, Aaltio & Blomqvist, 2013). Thus, it allows turn-taking, sharing of attention, and various aspects of attachment that happen simultaneously. Storytelling makes employees feel safe and secure since it creates a caring environment. Accordingly, it assists to produce great understanding, anticipation, and comprehension, which are vital while developing trust and relationships. Through telling stories and connecting with the workers, the management builds confidence in the minds of these employees. Even though stories are essential in generating confidence, not all of them have such powers. Stories need employee engagement to build trust and relationships. The core purpose of the institutional story is to connect with the employees. Thus, it should be created in a way that informs the employees and respects their views. Most managers often tell stories to evoke leadership, which influence various areas: conflict diffusion, inspiration, trust construction, motivation, influencing the superiors, and discovering the focus. Therefore, storytelling is an important channel to build trust between leaders and their subordinates; it empowers leaders while supporting interactions among the employees. The BP disaster occurred since there were no stories from the management that brought them together. Employees existed in isolation, which made it challenging to communicate oil spillage.

            Within an organization, storytelling plays significant roles and has been proven to be beneficial in ensuring effective organizational change. Telling stories can inspire workers to make changes occur within the organization. Most businesses lack adequate practices, goals, missions, and visions. However, through storytelling, organizational leaders embrace current strengths while identifying and exploring new opportunities for future institutional success. In business, storytelling goes beyond sharing anecdotes; it involves using the innate and ancient capacity of the employees to inspire them. Leaders are responsible for painting a picture of the future while encouraging others to get there. Complex collaborative teams that perform productively and innovatively often have their top management investing heavily in building and maintaining a social relationship and trust within the organization. With storytelling, employees understand various dynamics of organizational management since it is a method of employee engagement (Auvinen, Aaltio & Blomqvist, 2013). Engaged workers are focused and result oriented. Since they are told similar stories, uniformity in understanding and decision making are expected. However, leaders need to develop stories depending on the organizational situation to ensure that the result meets the intended purpose. The major stories that leaders should tell the workers include the founding, pivotal, teamwork, and great work stories.

The Story to Tell the New Team

            For the new workers, teamwork stories will be considered. In such stories, themes such as contrasting talents and breakthrough moments are vital since they present situations when the status quo challenges employees. In addition, there is the realization of the missing puzzle piece that changed everything (Auvinen, Aaltio & Blomqvist, 2013). Teamwork is vital for the success of the organization since it determines the level of trust and relationship. Employees working as a team have high chances to improve institutional efficiency and productivity. Understanding comes through interaction, listening, addressing confusions, and acting on important issues. In the story, the case of BP, the Gulf oil spillage lead to the death of 11 workers, which lead to the formation of a commission inquiry by President Obama (Reuters, 2011). Based on the findings, the White House Oil Spill Commission revealed that if adequate measures were considered, the disaster would have been prevented. The company failed to inquire from the knowledgeable organizational engineer.

            The report revealed that if anyone had consulted the engineer, the blow-out might never have occurred. There was no trust and proper relationship among the employees (Reuters, 2011). Besides, some questions arose from the case scenario. For example, reasons why the engineer failed to communicate the issue and how the unqualified rig crew who misread the pressure test and temporarily abandoned the Macondo well found themselves at the site alone. There is a need to build trust and collaboration among the employees to prevent such disasters from occurring. If there were storytelling between the engineer and the rig crew, the engineer would have realized their ability to address such problems. Storytelling establishes a forum to interact with the leaders and ask challenging questions (Ludmila, 2013). Moreover, it assists in employee training and development and accordingly, ensure that they made effective decisions on behalf of the organization. Most institutional problems are preventable when there are trust and relationship among the employees. Trust enhances the level of consultation.


            Teams have become critical in addressing some organizational problems and improving productivity. However, based on the analysis, these teams require trust and relationship to operate effectively. There are various methods of enhancing trust and relationship among the employees including engaging them through team building, establishing an open communication channel, and developing proper employee-employer confidence. Storytelling is also an effective way to develop trust among the workers. If the engineer and rig crew had used the storytelling strategy, their level of interaction would have reduced the chances of the disaster occurring.


Auvinen, T., Aaltio, I., & Blomqvist, K. (2013). Constructing leadership by storytelling – the meaning of trust and narratives. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 34(6), 496-514.

Cleverly-Thompson, S. (2018). Teaching Storytelling as a Leadership Practice. Journal of Leadership Education, 17(1), 132-140.

Ludmila, M. (2013). Leadership and Storytelling. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 75(2013), 83-90. Retrieved from

McAllister, D. J., Lewicki, R. J., & Chaturvedi, S. (2006). Trust In Developing Relationships: From Theory To Measurement. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2006(1), G1-G6.

Reuters. (2011, February 17). Gulf oil spill could have been prevented by BP workers who weren’t consulted: Report. Retrieved August 17, 2018, from

January 19, 2024
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