Stone Soup: A Recipe for Organisational Change

Photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade on Unsplash
21 February 2024

I’ve been coaching a team recently to help them work better together and I was struck by how particularly worn down and wary of change they were. Nobody had time to think about anything, even if it would make life better. My friend and mentor Giles Turnbull often says “everybody is already too busy” and he’s right.

It’s perfectly natural for stressed, burned out, and already-too-busy teams to feel doubtful of any benefits promised by yet another change initiative and reluctant or seemingly unable to invest even marginally in their own success.

Yet beneath the surface there’s always some tiny morsel of hope, energy, curiosity, skill, or good will. People just need help seeing it and recognising that it’s safe and useful to make even a small contribution. It starts with the changemaker setting a good example, telling an inspiring story, and providing plenty of encouragement.

Stone Soup democratises change and invites contributions from the most unexpected places.

The story of Stone Soup

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved the story of Stone Soup. It’s a perfect pattern for successful transformation. It weaves together resourcefulness, inspirational storytelling, and continuous improvement in a way that wins over hearts and minds, reduces the burden of change to something which everyone can manage, and invites small incremental contributions to emerge from the most unexpected places.

In the story, a hungry traveller arrives in a village ravaged by famine only to find the wary villagers unwilling to share any food. Unfazed, she invites the whole village to a feast taking place that evening. She brings out a large pot, fills it with water from a nearby stream, and builds a fire. Finally, she pulls a beautiful round stone from her pocket and begins to boil it.

Curious passers by ask what she’s doing. She explains that she’s making a delicious stone soup for the village and that it would be even more deliciosu if it just had a tiny bit of garnish or some spice or another small addition. Gradually and skillfully she entices everyone in the village to contribute whatever they can – a pinch of salt here, a sprig of rosemary there – completely transforming the simple stone soup into a hearty feast that the whole village enjoys together, just as she had promised!

It felt like magic then and still does today. I’m sure it encouraged me to move into organisational development and coaching.

It felt like magic then and still does today.

Feeding my hungry village

The team above was struggling to get the information they needed from senior leadership prior to starting a new project. They were busy (of course) and didn’t have time to go back to their leaders for clarification. They had a project kick-off document, it just wasn’t meeting their needs.

I told a story about a team who created a simple “fill in the blank” style template for new projects and we started talking about what we woud put in our own. Within a few minutes one team member had started sketching and went off to build a prototype.

The next day, he had created a beautiful example presentation that he wished they’d had at the start of their project. He’d found information related to the project from across the web and even gone digging within the company and talking to folks to find the additional info they needed – a task that previously seemed impossible!

Key Ingredients

Let’s look more deeply at the key ingredients:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Inspirational storytelling
  • Incremental change


Consider how the traveler’s ability to start with what she has - a mere stone - mirrors the importance of leveraging existing resources and capabilities within the organisation. Instead of overwhelming folks with grand plans and sweeping changes, changemakers can begin by identifying and utilizing the assets, skills, and knowledge already present. This approach not only minimizes resistance but also demonstrates to everyone that they have the capacity to contribute to the change process. Start where you are – with what’s already working!

Start where you are – with what’s already working.

Imagine a company implementing a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. Instead of imposing the new system from the top down, changemakers can encourage staff to identify pain points in the current processes and suggest improvements. By involving teams in the design and implementation phases, the organisation can tap into their expertise and ensure that the new system addresses their needs and concerns.


The traveler’s ability to inspire generosity and collaboration among the villagers highlights the power of storytelling and persuasion in driving organisational change. In the story, the traveler’s mention of the stone soup ignites curiosity and encourages the villagers to participate in the cooking process. Similarly, leaders can use storytelling techniques to communicate the vision, purpose, and benefits of the proposed changes in a compelling and relatable manner.

For instance, rather than bombarding beleagured teammates with technical jargon and statistics about the benefits of a new process or system, try sharing anecdotes and examples illustrating how the change will improve efficiency, enhance customer satisfaction, or create new opportunities for growth. By framing the change as a collective endeavor with tangible benefits for everyone involved, we can inspire the most jaded colleagues to overcome their skepticism and actively contribute to the change effort.

Incremental change

The gentle transformation of the stone soup from a humble concoction into a nourishing feast underscores the importance of incremental progress and visible results in building momentum for change. Instead of attempting to implement sweeping changes overnight, break down the change process into smaller, manageable steps and celebrate each milestone along the way. We’re not trying to boil the ocean, just add a bit of spice or a potato with potential.

A company transitioning to a more agile project management approach could start by piloting the new methodology in a single team or department before gradually expanding it to the rest of the organisation. By demonstrating early successes and showcasing the positive impact of the change, leaders can alleviate skepticism and instill confidence in the change process.

We’re not trying to boil the ocean, just add a bit of spice or a potato with potential.

Get cooking

The story of Stone Soup offers valuable lessons for enabling organisational change in environments rife with skepticism and burnout. As the traveler turned a simple stone into a nourishing feast, changemakers can set good examples, inspire, and harness the collective contributions of everyone to create positive change for all!

Start with existing resources, inspire collaboration through storytelling, and emphasize the power of incremental progress. By doing so, we can overcome resistance, foster a culture of innovation, and drive meaningful growth in every organisation.

Need help with your own stone soup transformation? Get in touch!