Stories that Create Culture

An incredible journey of discovery at annual leadership retreat

By Kristian Partington

“The shortest distance between two people is a good story,” said Schlegel Villages president and CEO James Schlegel at one point during the organization’s annual leadership retreat at Brampton’s Pearson Convention Centre April 17-18.

He was right on the mark.  

Team members absorb the power of storytelling.

Around 150 people with various connections to the villages came to the annual event, themed “Stories that Create Culture.” They arrived free of any expectations or inhibitions, prepared to accept the idea of the story as a powerful relationship-building tool.

The stories that emerged from within each person in the group under the guidance of master storyteller Annette Simmons drew the entire team together in ways that some simply described as magical.

Annette began the first day sharing her own stories, opening a window into who she is and the path that led her to stages and boardrooms where she helps people break down the objective reasoning of data and facts by embracing subjective realities that bring experience and emotion to life through story.

“Story is the DNA of meaning,” she told the group as she broke down the anatomy of a story and explained six key principles of strong storytelling.

One of her key messages was that everyone has a story to share, yet many lay hidden within the preconceptions, premonitions, fears and worries that come to us as we evolve from the curiosity of childhood to the stark understandings that come with growing up.

She gave the room license to dig into their stories, assuring everyone that when a person gives a story chances are they’ll get one in return. Each exchange brings us closer together and closer to understanding where we are and where we are going.

Small groups sat together in the afternoon of Day 1 and each person shared a story. Some were deeply personal, some were filled with snippets of humour, and all were genuine.

Each group then chose one story to be told the next morning during a story concert, referred to as an olio. The stories were as beautiful as they were diverse, and commonalities among the group emerged as tears and laughter mingled among the 150 souls in the room.

These people carry deep within their being a profound capacity to love. They love their families, they love their sports, they love their hobbies and pets, and they love the people they care for every day in what some may categorize as a job, but others might call a vocation. 

“I’m reminded of the incredibly talented group of people that we have as leaders in this organization and the vast diversity of their experiences,” James said as he reflected on the gathering. 

“I was amazed by the stories of our team members and how they were willing to be so personal with a big group of people . . . and expose themselves and have the confidence to do it.”

The hope, he says, is that people will bring that confidence back to their villages and neighbourhoods and share it with the people they support.

We are all storytellers and have been since the day we first understood that the world is a complex place that thrusts complex obstacles upon every path we choose to navigate.

We learn from each step of the journey and the stories we encounter are what make our lives rich with experience and the beautiful notion of hope.

These are the stories that create culture.

If you have questions, comments or a story to share, please contact Kristian at 705-772-5182, or e-mail

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