Storytelling as a way to foster a sense of belonging in family businesses

Many issues facing family businesses today can be solved with a simple, timeless fix: storytelling. For instance, the Smiths (not their real name) owners of a 100-year-old successful international family business, had been struggling with how to create a united spirit among the family. The central issue in the Smith family was a lack of feeling of belonging and connection that every human being needs in order to thrive.
According to renowned author, speaker and researcher Brené Brown, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong … Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Fundamentally, the Smiths loved and cared for one another, but this lack of connection within the family was not only affecting their communication and regard for one another, it was affecting the stability of their business.
When we share stories with the people we care most about, it fosters this deeper sense of connection, love and belonging that Brown refers to.
Roles play a part
In most family systems, especially when there are the complications of running a family business together, people find themselves typecast in a role: the drama queen, the tight-wad, the introvert, the boss. By telling stories from the heart, these roles start to fall away and what is revealed are the parts that are true for all, the threads that connect us to something greater than our individual selves.
In the storytelling process, the human being who is sharing is revealed, not just the facts and details of the story. When I tell you a story about my life, I am showing you a piece of who I am, what I value, what matters to me. Even if it’s something mundane and seemingly ordinary.
One of the greatest ways to experience the connection Brené Brown uncovered as a primary human need is through this storytelling process. When members of a family business take the time to share stories and memories with one another, it gives them a chance not only to be seen and heard as individuals as opposed to their fixed roles, but also to feel more deeply connected to each other and to the larger family system.
When the Smith siblings realized they all shared common memories about their grandmother, it created a feeling of camaraderie and belonging that they craved despite not having been particularly close in the past. It doesn’t even matter what the details of the story are — it is the sharing, listening and being present for the storytelling that creates the closeness.
In a culture that inundates us with information, it’s hard to break through all the muck and reach for the stories that hold the most meaning for us. The stories that have the power to change our lives are the ones that are the most personal but that also hold the key universalities of the human experience: overcoming great obstacles, rising from the ashes or celebrating successes.
The Smiths recognized how their commitment to sharing stories through a documentary film process brought them closer together and united them as a family and as a company. Wanting to find that sense of belonging is innate in all of us, and storytelling, even in its simplest form, reminds us that we are all connected to something greater than ourselves.
Arielle Nobile is the CEO and chief creative officer of Legacy Connections Films, which she founded 10 years ago. LCF has produced more than 100 private documentary films, legacy films that serve as a mirror for clients to reflect on how far they have come and to share a vision for where they are going. For more information, visit