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Deborah Goodall of Fruitful Conversations discusses how a sense of story unleashes intrinsic motivation.

Narrative processes are the invisible glue in truly connected and collaborative organisations. And IC is well placed to understand and drive these processes.

An unusual experience at a family wedding a few years ago helped crystallise my understanding of collaboration. A potentially embarrassing and disappointing situation for the bride and groom was averted when a small group of friends stepped in and very discretely covered for the absent caterers, who had somehow been let go early. This group rapidly cleared tables and prepared an adjacent room so the next phase of the celebrations could get underway.

What was remarkable was their effectiveness at working together – mostly unknown to each other and without speaking much; they took on different roles, worked sequentially, noticed and filled any gaps in the chain of tasks - and got the job done quickly without the rest of the wedding party knowing anything was awry.

Afterwards some of them said they had just ‘got on with it’ because they were keen to get back to the party themselves and because they felt for the bride and groom as to how the day would end if they didn’t tackle this glitch head on.

This group had all the essentials of great collaboration in place:

1) A clear and common goal (sort the room and get back to the party) linked to

2) A sense of the different stories that would unfold (wedding jollity or social humiliation and disappointment) if they did or didn’t act, and;

3) Shared values around supporting the bride and groom.

These ingredients are powerful motivators at the core of any truly high-performing group or organisation. And, in our work at Fruitful Conversations, we are often asked how you get this same degree of clarity and energy in teams, business units and organisations: how do you consistently unleash intrinsic motivation for the long term and on a large scale?

Unleashing intrinsic motivation within organisations

In our experience, longer term collaboration rests significantly on shared values and connected people as well as a compelling sense of what we’re about. In the wedding story, these ingredients are easy to see and point out, but in more complex set-ups they are often less available to us - not so visible, more abstract. People need help bringing them into focus - giving the business story shape and form.

And this is where IC can be a major driving force: values, purpose and story are highly intertwined and the mix required for people to feel connected and engaged enough to collaborate over time only emerges when:

  • Experiences and stories that build understanding and emotional connection are shared
  • The business mission is explored together – creating common meaning (often as a compelling business story)

This is a narrative process and IC can accelerate it. With the right toolkit, IC can help people build common values, shape the story of the organisation and express it in ways that keep it real.

What does an effective narrative toolkit look like?

It will have two main strands:

1) Connecting people to the mission and
2) Connecting people to each other

It will have the backing of the leadership:

A top leadership team, with narrative intelligence and storytelling capability, which helps drive internal communication.

This means ensuring leaders understand narrative thinking and are using stories as a strategic tool to inspire, set vision, teach important lessons, define culture, or to explain who they are and what they believe. Sharing context and understanding in story form gives people the emotional colouring-in that makes the journey ahead real, believable and imaginable.

The leadership directorate of a recent client, a major public body, ‘threw away’ PowerPoint after storytelling sessions helped them realise they could make ‘strategy stick’ and influence more effectively and authentically with story-based approaches.

In addition to storytelling, it will draw on:

1) Narrative-promoting techniques to facilitate exploration of the business story:

- Surfacing the Higher Sense of Purpose (HSOP): Providing templates and processes for groups or teams to explore the organisation or group's narrative

- Story-triggering: Helping others find and tell stories in support of the main narrative, prompted by leadership actions, visuals, narrative questioning and initiatives that generate stories

- Story-listening: Listening to the stories of employees through an appreciative lens, such as that of appreciative inquiry to trigger renewed focus on positive change and build the story and culture everyone wants from the bottom up

2) Connection initiatives: Campaigns and conversational forums (face-to-face as well as online) that promote organisational connection across functions, disciplines and geographies e.g. relevant company-wide challenges

3) Content reflective of HSOP: Managing the tone of the organisation's discourse to ensure that written editorial and leaders' speeches stay 'real' and do not cast the company and its products as the hero. Instead, they draw on much wider perspectives and stakeholder standpoints that demonstrate and reflect the HSOP

4) Active story triggering to drive culture: Sharing 'above and beyond' stories and using them to spark other stories and similar behaviour in other parts of the organisations

When both shared values and bigger picture understanding are in place, remarkable things can happen. Managers and their teams create their own stories, aligned to the business journey, and discover and own the action they need to take.


A recent case study at EDF Energy showed positive measures of engagement increased across the 14,000 strong workforce by around 9% after involving most employees in ‘Our Compelling Story ‘ workshops. And in a biomedical research unit we worked with, similar increases in engagement were seen after a series of ‘solutions focused’ strategy meetings.

We have also seen:

  • A technology company take on a challenging new strategic direction after listening to employees’ future stories about a particular application of its technology
  • A team of scientists speed up the final phase of drug development by two months after sharing stories of the product’s likely clinical impact and their roles in the process
  • The entire policy unit at a national charity upgrade their own performance targets and deliver the first stage only one week after a story-sharing event inspired them.

A narrative approach and the right toolkit helps IC work with people to turn the abstract into the tangible. It gives organisations, and groups within them, the spark that helps them lift their game to a new level and work together with shared passion.

Deborah and the Fruitful Conversations team work closely with leaders and their teams to help them master the narrative tool kit and inspire lasting organisational change.

[email protected]

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