Memory and learning are two sides of the same coin. Our ability to remember what we’ve experienced equips us with the knowledge we need to make decisions that lead us towards a brighter future. The thought of losing our memory terrifies us, as it feels like losing a piece of who we are.

But did you know that not only individuals, but social groups can also have ‘memory‘? When a social group can remember its past, it’s considered a mnemonic community. Today we’ll look at why this collective memory is important and whether it has a place in organisational culture.

What will I read about in this article?


Exploring collective organisational memory: the role of mnemonic communities

Our own family can be a mnemonic community, where we pass on family history, relive values and practices inherited from our ancestors. Likewise, a country can also be considered a mnemonic community by studying its past, remembering its historical figures or maintaining cultural values through various traditions.

Companies and organisations can also be mnemonic communities, and it’s a good thing that they are. Collective memory is important because it fosters “cultural coherence”, orientation and identity among employees, improves decision-making, and ultimately brings greater stability.


“Having a collective memory fosters “cultural coherence” among employees”.


However, if companies, contrary to families and countries, have no brains and therefore no hippocampus, how can their memory be converted?

This is the question that the field of organisational memory studies attempts to answer, which explores precisely how organisations, their managers and employees manage collective memory, as well as its relationship with other mnemonic communities.

It’s based on the premise that the past can be a constituent element of the ethos of organisations, understanding ethos as a set of shared values, beliefs and norms. In short, their culture, identity and ethics.

Understanding how organisational memory is constructed, reconstructed, deconstructed or destroyed is the basis of this new field of study, and can be fundamental for organisations that want to foster and exercise their collective memory.

libros antiguos

Activating Collective Memory in Organisations: A Practical Approach

Collective memory was defined by Irwin-Zarecka as the social articulation and maintenance of the “reality of the past“. However, why is collective memory important in organisations and how can it be articulated?


“Collective memory was defined by Irwin-Zarecka as the social articulation and maintenance of the “reality of the past”.


In a recent study reviewing dozens of works related to the field of organisational memory, different ways of activating collective memory in an organisation are presented. In this article, we want to highlight four:

* Transmit: for organisations aiming to cultivate a collective memory, it is essential to transmit the organisation’s past in an evocative way. This is the chronological and meaningful storytelling of the company.

A transmission that anyone in the organisation can understand and transmit on their part. It is, in a way, an embodied memory.

* Preserve: as a complement to transmission, a second step involves all those initiatives and practices that facilitate the “vitality” of the past. This can be achieved through access to a wide variety of textual and visual materials that connect to the organisation’s history, such as early contracts or products made by the organisation.

Some companies have even established museums that house these materials, serving as “preservation” spaces that facilitate a strong collective memory.

* Commemorate: A third step in fostering collective memory in the organisation is to celebrate the past. That is, encouraging practices of memorialisation, whether of significant milestones of the organisation itself (such as 100 years of creation) or of individual employee achievements (e.g. 25 years of work).

The commemoration is both of symbolic function and a gesture of gratitude to those who have contributed to the organisation’s success.

* Systematising: A fourth step in fostering collective memory is to construct the past in a systematic way. This can be achieved through the creation of an annual memory and the meticulous preservation of all relevant documents and press clippings. These practices allow the organisation’s history to be recovered in a comprehensive way over time.

These four steps, supported by various initiatives in each of them, can facilitate the strengthening of collective memory in organisations. At the same time, the authors of the study warn that, as with individuals, forgetting is the norm and inevitable.

Not everything will remain or be remembered. However, it’s important to avoid a strategic forgetting of some parts of history as it is also past and contains valuable lessons.

libreria antigua con escalera

In short, just as people value their memory, and carry out certain initiatives or exercises to exercise it, organisations and companies should not forget the importance of their own collective memory, which can be a guarantee of coherence, stability and growth, contributing to a solid identity over time.