Rituals exist everywhere from family occasions and sporting events to life milestones and religious services. Whether it is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, particular pre-game music, a personalized birthday celebration or a coming-of-age bar or bat mitzvah, these customs persist because they serve a valuable purpose. They make people feel like they belong, they make the event more meaningful and as a result, they encourage individuals to engage and excel in that sphere.
Workplace rituals are capable of accomplishing the same outcomes, creating inclusivity and relevance for employees, leading to improved performance. But sadly, many leaders don’t take, or even realize, this opportunity to build and maintain team and company culture.
What makes an effective workplace ritual?
By definition, a workplace ritual should be a series of repetitive behaviours, with symbolic meaning that reinforces an organization or team’s core value(s), and have no direct connection to the task at hand. The morning coffee run is an example of a workplace ritual. It doesn’t directly affect the work that needs to be done (some may argue that the caffeine has a direct relationship), happens daily and serves to increase team camaraderie.
What surprises many leaders is that rituals don’t need to be complex or complicated. Sometimes even the simplest ones can generate the greatest return on investment. The possibilities to create rituals in the workplace are many, limited only by your and your employees’ imagination. But to get you started, here are several ideas that have proven to be effective.
Rituals that celebrate success
While a celebratory lunch never disappoints, rituals don’t need to break the budget. Sending out an e-mail announcement with a team photo is a great way to mark a milestone. Or make it even more routine by starting each team meeting with everyone sharing one success they are particularly proud of in the last week or month. At least quarterly, assess your team or company progress against goals and milestones. Some teams have a gong in the office that employees can bang to signal success whenever they reach a goal.
Rituals that promote skills and knowledge
Make it a habit to debrief missteps immediately. A short huddle to assess where things went wrong and how to improve in the future normalizes failure and promotes learning. Spotify has regular team “fail-fikas” (fika is the Swedish word for having a coffee and chat) in which people discuss their mistakes and what they can learn. Some organizations require everyone (from CEO to janitor) to spend a few days each year on the front line with customers. Others expect a minimum days of in-depth training annually.
Rituals that build teams and solidify relationships
Employees who have fun together work well together. Monthly potlucks, regular trivia contests, a weekly happy hour in the break room all create opportunities to make employees feel like they belong. To celebrate work anniversaries and birthdays have the person of honour bring a treat of their choice for all to share and in return they receive cards from their teammates saying something positive about them. Make a trophy out of an unusual object that is awarded once a month. It passes from one co-worker to another to light-heartedly thank them for their help or extra effort. As a team, volunteer in the community twice a year.
Rituals to welcome new team members
Gather the team, and then officially welcome your new person on their first day, presenting them with a “team mug.” After three months, hold a “graduation ceremony” where they are given a team T-shirt, hat or other memento to recognize the occasion. Or if you’re looking for effortless, a celebratory lunch for the new employee will never miss the mark.
Expect that some will resist
At least to start, some of your staff may resist participating in rituals. They may think it’s silly or ridiculous and decline to take part. Persist anyway. Rituals increase in effectiveness over time. As they become more ingrained in the culture, more people come on board.
An unexpected bonus
As the threat of COVID-19 diminishes, leaders at companies are urging their people to return to the workplace. But many employees, accustomed to the advantages of working from home, are clamouring to stay remote. Much to the chagrin of these employees, a lot of companies have resorted to minimum office-time mandates. Your workplace rituals can be a strong positive motivator and may just be the tipping point you need to offset this angst.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a speaker, author, mentor to senior leaders and the chief executive officer of the leadership development consultancy Turning Managers Into Leaders.