Three things Sr. Jean can teach us about patient and staff engagement

Spring is indeed a time of renewal, hope and miracles: life returns outside our window, the season of Lent … and, of course, March Madness. During the opening days of play, the first-time-ever defeat of a #1 seed (Virginia) by a #16 seed (University of Maryland – Baltimore County) promised to be the story of the tournament. Then along came Loyola Chicago.
Even if you don’t like the Catholic Church and couldn’t care less about college basketball, you have to love Sister Jean, the 98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola University of Chicago basketball team. Just seeing her in the stands rooting for the Loyola Ramblers brings a smile to your face. But it wasn’t until I heard and read a couple of her post-game interviews that I came to appreciate the wisdom, wit and will of this spunky woman.
Following are three quotes that I found powerful, especially for those of us who are interested in finding additional ways to improve patient and employee engagement.

“They share the ball; they don’t care (who makes the shot). They just share the ball. And they have great teamwork ….”

In the years I’ve spent working with the Press Ganey, I’ve learned many important lessons from their research into what makes a difference in patient experience. No lesson is more important than understanding that “how well staff worked together as a team” is an important survey question that has been consistently ranked among the most highly correlated with overall patient satisfaction for over 30 years. Simply, teamwork and how well teams communicate with one another is just as important as what we say to patients.
The Ramblers understand this concept. As Sister Jean has so insightfully observed, the team-first-individual-performance-second attitude has significantly contributed to their unexpected success.

“And when we were in the locker room ahead of the game, we just knew we could do this.”

An ESPN writer once characterized Sister Jean’s pregame prayer as a mix of prayer, scouting report and motivational speech. She understands that the pregame huddle should be focused on the specific issues the team will encounter with their opponent that day (the “scouting report” part), but she also appreciates the power of inspiration.
As health care leaders, our inspiration may not come always come from above (though I’ve seen many managers in faith-based organizations end their daily huddles with a brief prayer). But all teams need inspiration and a sense of confidence going into their daily work.

“I love every one of them. I talk about the game to them, and then they go out and play.”

Love may be an odd, uncomfortable way to describe a manager’s relationship with his/her team. But employees do need to feel that they have their leader’s respect, admiration, support and unwavering confidence. Those characteristics sound a lot like love (the non-romantic type, anyway) to me.
In arguably the most regimented, challenging, dangerous circumstances a leader can face – going into armed combat – how often have we heard a general and/or his troups say, “I love these guys.” While the circumstances may be less daunting, high-performing teams embrace many of the same characteristics that soldiers cite when they say their love their colleagues.
Who knows how much further the Loyola Ramblers will go in the NCAA tournament. But what the team and their inspirational chaplain Sister Jean have shown us may last a lifetime.