By Colleen Sinsky
The culture I’ve grown up in relies almost entirely on the written word for communication. E-mail, annual reports, Twitter, Power Point and case files are tools of a world that has forgotten oral tradition. Most of the information I’ve digested throughout my education was read off of a screen or page. I don’t believe this is a bad thing, but there is some magic to storytelling that has been lost somewhere along the way. In this way, JOIN is countercultural in the value we place on storytelling.
Friday afternoons long been the space to connect outside the office, to talk informally about what’s going on in our work and personal lives. When the House closes, staff migrates to a local restaurant and closes out the week with a laid back experience of just spending time together, often passing on stories of “old JOIN” and what it was like in the office on 17th street or at St. Francis. Hearing long-time employees tell stories from the olden days of JOIN is invaluable to people like me who are new to staff. We keep JOIN’s roots relevant by having a space for passing along our stories- some funny, some terrifying, an occasional legendary disaster, and all making me proud to play a role in this tradition. Better than any binder of “employee information,” learning from these organic gatherings has taught me so much about JOIN’s philosophy and how to do the work. We learn from each other’s experiences and have a safe place to vent or to solicit advice. Hearing Mike laugh about a minor crisis ten years ago puts whatever I’m dealing with this week into perspective. In the past 20 years JOIN has grown and changed and survived a huge array of hurdles. We keep those years, and the people who made them memorable, alive in our collective memory.
JOIN’s organizational culture revitalizes face to face communication. Everything from how we prioritize monthly retreats, to how our downstairs office space is designed, to the almost total lack of email communication between staff members is geared towards promoting conversation. JOIN is so fortunate to have had the influence of Lio’s Samoan culture that, for thousands of years, has had a rich history of oral tradition and verbal communication. From my desk, I can hear Lio begin meetings with our folks, “So, tell me what is going on.” He creates space for a conversation, not an interview to fill in the blanks on an intake sheet. From the big blue armchair, our folks are asked to tell their story. This is the foundation of building a relationship, and storytelling the first step towards empowerment.