The Change House Cleaner

What follows is a reflection on the narrative component of displacement and how it facilitated the sharing of organisational myths on a project.

The story starts with an anecdote circle I was facilitating on a project in a town known for its traffic circles. As the session moved on I asked a question about the myths and rumours that moved through the organisation. The group began to relate some of the anecdotes around the prevalent myths when someone mentioned the Change House Cleaner. Not having a point of reference for this, I gave my carefully crafted quizzical look, and asked for more information.

It turns out that at a point in time in the past, there were Change Houses on mine shafts where the miners would change into and out of their underground clothing before and after shifts. These Houses were significant social convergence points and the Change House Cleaner was party to all the gossip and everyday talk that the miners shared with each other. And so, the Cleaners developed a valuable social currency as they became nodes of communal information.

But it has been some time since the Change Houses were around, but the character of the Change House Cleaner still lives on. And so when speaking of a rumour in the organisation, people ask where they got the information. The answer: "The Change House Cleaner told me."

Back to the group …

I asked a few questions about the Change House Cleaner and soon realised that the group related to the character in a very tangible manner. I decided to up the role of displacement to see what would happen. I pulled an empty chair into the group and said it was for the Chang House Cleaner. I asked if the Cleaner was a man of woman.

"Man!", they said unanimously.

And what is his name?


Okay, what else would Simon tell us about this organisation?

"He would tell us about the shafts that are about to close."
"He would tell us about who is sleeping with who".
"He would tell us about our CEOs secret life".

"But wait", someone said, "I was speaking to Simon this morning and he was telling me about the situation in Zimbabwe".

Before my eyes, a pretty rational group took on the role play with enamored passion and proceeded to engaged in a cathartic dumping session of the various myths that The Change House Cleaner knows about and perpetuates.

It goes to show how narrative allows people to displace accountability and responsibility for their stories elsewhere.



One response to “The Change House Cleaner”

  1. […] Aiden Choles has just posted a nice piece on how he used role play within an anecdote circle to collect stories. This is how it happened. He was starting to explore the prevalent myths in the organisation he’s working with when one of the participants mentioned change house cleaners. […]

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