Six Ways to Integrate Storytelling Into our Organizations

Storytelling is the thread that binds us together and helps create shared Experiences. Organizational narrative is defined not just by the people within it, but by the culture they create and the stories they weave and share. A single story has the power to change the conversation, change actions, and change outcomes.

Kyle Christiason, MD, Medical Director at UnityPoint Health, and a founding member of The Experience Lab, shares how he has made Storytelling a vital component in his practice and why it matters.

Lean in. I love the quote from Michael Margolis, “If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change the culture, change the stories.” As leaders, we should practice Storytelling. It’s ok to not feel natural, lean into the discomfort. When we practice Storytelling such as the dedicated time for stories in my clinic, we can become more comfortable and when we listen we become more meaningfully connected.

Be the best story gatherer in your organization. Seek out stories from different people, departments and regions. Regularly engage in story rounds by simply asking a few questions: What do you love about what you do? Tell me one thing you did to improve the life of another person this week? What’s one thing someone else did that made you feel special? Be a role model for others to see how easy it really is. Sometimes we make it harder than it should be. By modeling Storytelling and story gathering you can take down the barrier of it feeling overwhelming.

Become the best pollinator of stories in your organization. When we hear something special, share it with someone else. Not only can we be touched by someone’s Experience, we will be more likely to look for those special moments in our own life. Listening and sharing creates a culture of caring for one another, celebrating what is good. When it’s part of your culture to practice this, everything else becomes easier.

Sometimes there are stories we should stop telling. Not every story and not all words or phrases need to be used. It’s amazing how many warfare terms there are in health care. There may be a “war room” for developing strategy. We refer to our caregivers as the “front line.” We talk about providers being “in the trenches.” When we launch a new initiative, we call it “pulling the trigger.” When we refer to health care as being the same as warfare, we are destined to subvert our goals. However, we can joyfully embrace being a part of what I consider to be a sacred and noble profession by using terms that are more appropriate. Rather than “frontline,” consider “face-to-face caregivers.” Instead of helping a “non-compliant patient,” consider “let’s support this person to be their most successful self.”

Consider nonverbal stories. We can also change our stories through our non-verbal language. When we leave the examination room and look at a person with our hand on doorknob asking, “Is there anything else you want to talk about today?” we are sending a message that screams “I am done with our conversation even if you are not”.

Remember the power of small. In leadership, we can focus on changing the game by focusing on the small details. A genuine smile at the check-in desk. A nurse remembering my child’s name. A physician who calls me at home to ensure I’m safe and I understand my medications. A culture of introducing every member of the care team during a hospital stay. It’s taking a moment to address “me” before addressing the health record.

Transformation doesn’t happen in a cataclysmic moment but rather the millions of tiny miracles that happen every day and each of those moments is a story waiting to be shared.

What stories at your organization are waiting to be told?

Want to know what it takes to be part of Inside Out, the national Experience transformation collaborative, explore The Experience Lab.