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Translating Inclusive Leadership through Storytelling and Professional Theater Artists

Fostering inclusivity requires community engagement. This is why together with the Translation Department of Helsinki University, Ely-Keskus/KEHA, and Eläkeliitto, we launched a project to bring Playback Theater workshops to translate inclusive leadership among companies and organizations through storytelling.

Playback Theater is an interactive form of improvisational theater where audience members share their personal stories, and actors play them back through creative and spontaneous performances. This method not only creates a powerful platform for storytelling but also fosters empathy, understanding, and a sense of community among participants.

These workshops are for professionals and companies aiming to improve employee engagement amid organizational changes. Key topics include inclusive leadership, customer experience, resistance to change, and amplifying underrepresented voices to elevate leadership effectiveness. 

From securing funding to executing the workshops, this case study details the journey and impact of this initiative.

The Challenge


The project began with a clear objective: to secure funding for the workshops. Collaborating with the docent from the Helsinki University Translation Department, we crafted a fundraising application that highlighted the importance of these workshops. The application emphasized the potential for social integration and emotional well-being through the arts.

Once the funding was secured, the next step was organizing the logistics. I managed to line up a professional photoshoot to capture the essence of the workshops, select suitable venues that were accessible and welcoming, and market the event effectively to the target audience. Promoting the workshops through various social media channels and networks was crucial to ensure maximum participation and engagement.

Why Playback Theater Workshops?


Organizations face significant hurdles in implementing inclusive leadership and fostering employee engagement, particularly during periods of substantial change. Key challenges include:


  1. Resistance to Change: Major organizational changes, such as new CRM systems or company-wide transformations, often encounter significant resistance. Employees may be reluctant to adopt new systems or processes due to comfort with the status quo or fear of the unknown.
  3. Lack of Engagement: Traditional methods of gathering employee feedback, such as focus groups or surveys, can be time-consuming and may not fully capture the depth of employee sentiments.
  5. Unrecognized Underrepresented Voices: Important perspectives, especially from underrepresented groups, often remain unheard, leading to decisions that do not fully reflect the diverse needs of the workforce.
  7. Disconnected Workforce: The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated feelings of isolation and disconnection among employees, making it even more challenging to foster a sense of community and shared purpose.
  9. Formal Communication Barriers: Formal events and structures often fail to engage employees in a meaningful way, resulting in missed opportunities for genuine dialogue and understanding.

Our Solution


Playback Theater workshops offered a unique and effective solution to these challenges. The key components of our solution included:


  1. Interactive Feedback: Playback Theater provided an engaging platform where employees could share their personal stories related to organizational challenges. This interactive format encouraged open dialogue and honest feedback.
  3. Time Efficiency: Unlike traditional focus groups or surveys that require extensive time to organize and analyze, Playback Theater quickly gathered diverse and trustworthy perspectives in a short period.
  5. Emotional Connection: The workshops facilitated a deep emotional connection among participants by bringing to life the stories of resistance, change, and inclusion. This emotional engagement fostered empathy and understanding.
  7. Visibility of Invisible Issues: By dramatizing personal stories, the workshops made invisible issues visible, highlighting the underlying reasons behind resistance to change and other organizational challenges.
  9. Facilitator Excellence: The workshops were led by award-winning theater facilitator Jana Taskenen, whose expertise ensured a structured yet flexible environment that maximized participant engagement and insight.

Our Impact


The impact of the Playback Theater workshops was multifaceted and profound:


  1. COVID-19 Adaptation: During the pandemic, the workshops served as an essential tool for reconnecting employees and bridging the gap created by social isolation. Participants felt more tuned in and united despite the physical distances.
  3. Engagement Across Backgrounds: The workshops effectively engaged employees from diverse backgrounds and projects, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. This inclusivity helped align employees with organizational goals and values.
  5. Revealing Hidden Perspectives: The interactive and spontaneous nature of Playback Theater revealed critical but previously hidden perspectives. This transparency allowed organizations to address issues that might have otherwise been overlooked.
  7. Service Design Improvement: Insights gained from the workshops informed better service design and project strategies. For instance, understanding why international students preferred student union events over career services helped universities tailor their offerings more effectively.
  9. Enhanced Wellbeing: The therapeutic aspect of theater and storytelling promoted overall employee wellbeing. Participants reported feeling more connected, valued, and understood, contributing to a healthier organizational culture.



The feedback from the workshops was positive. Participants praised the Playback Theater workshops for their engaging and impactful format. They highlighted the following aspects:

  • Relatability: The workshops promoted a strong sense of relatability among colleagues, enhancing empathy and mutual understanding.
  • Innovative Approach: The dynamic and interactive nature of the sessions was a refreshing change from traditional workshop formats. Employees appreciated the opportunity to express their views creatively.
  • Effective Feedback Mechanism: The workshops provided a valuable platform for gathering honest and actionable feedback, helping organizations make informed decisions.
  • Wellbeing Boost: The sessions contributed positively to employee wellbeing by fostering a supportive and empathetic environment.

Overall, participants appreciated the opportunity to share their stories in a safe and supportive environment. Many highlighted the emotional impact of seeing their experiences portrayed on stage, noting how it helped them process and understand their feelings better. The workshops were praised for their inclusivity and the skillful facilitation that made everyone feel heard and valued.

I can truly recommend this kind of workshop, specially with remote working. We organized workshop on topics of international recruitment with quite diverse group of project professionals and they saw impact of their work through storytelling, got new ideas and felt strong involvement. My warmest recommendations!


For the final event of a three-year project with the Pensioners’ Union, we selected a Playback Theater workshop to connect NGO professionals with their cause of creating meaningful encounters. The sincerity, teamwork, and professionalism of the actors greatly enhanced the event’s execution and format, adding an engaging and memorable dimension. This approach also helped in planning future projects more effectively, ensuring they meet their objectives while addressing both successes and challenges.


Tarinateatterin kantavana ideana on antaa osallistujien kokemuksille ääni, tehdä ne näkyviksi. Tutkimushankkeemme kannalta tarinateatterin vahvuus on siinä, että sen avulla voimme oppia ymmärtämään paremmin osallistujien tunnekokemusta.


Feedback from the Participants

Supported by a professional theater group, this experience brought new meanings to life. I had never encountered such a format before, and despite the emotional journey, I left feeling full of positivity.
It was fascinating to observe how people from different cultures and languages could deliver such compelling storytelling. I hope to see more projects like this and would be delighted to participate again.
Taking part was truly enjoyable. The artists' ability to improvise and portray situations in a captivating way left a therapeutic impact. We addressed situations and conflicts playfully, gaining new perspectives on problems. I would love to attend again.
The delivery of Playback Theater art made our workshops unexpectedly pleasant and deeply touching. Each story carried meaning and provoked thought. This is a wonderful project with the potential to foster greater understanding and inclusivity.
I feel happiness, energy, joy, and a sense of unexpected theatrical experience. I highly recommend it to others—you'll leave feeling like a completely enriched person.

Playback Theater workshops offered a powerful and innovative tool for fostering inclusive leadership and enhancing employee engagement. By breaking away from standard workshop formats, these sessions promoted empathy, understanding, and a sense of community.

Conducted in both Finnish and English, they demonstrated how storytelling and theater could drive meaningful organizational change, improve well-being, and enhance overall leadership effectiveness. Through this initiative, companies and organizations were able to gain critical insights, align their teams, and create more inclusive and effective workplaces.

For collaboration inquiries and to support our next series of workshops, please email us at hello@kamillasultanova.fi