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Why your company needs rituals

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Most companies have rituals, whether they are formal or informal, they exist. However, not all companies are familiar with what those rituals may be resulting in a missed opportunity in defining and shaping the culture of the organization. This isn’t something owned by leadership, rituals belong to the organization as a whole. Do you know what the rituals at your organization are?

You may cite things like stand-ups, quarterly planning, or your one-on-one’s with your team. Many of these are not rituals but routines that get carried out as we flow through the work day. So what is the difference between a ritual and a routine, and how does it shape your culture? Tim Brown from IDEO describes it by saying

“Rituals create a constant nudging so that, over time, a culture learns to do something naturally and intuitively.”

I’m nowhere near as eloquent as Tim but I can take a few points from there to elaborate on, mostly, that it closely ties what people do regularly with culture. It is, or becomes, deeply rooted in the core values of the people.

There are many perspectives on the definition of rituals and we can’t claim to be any more authoritative than others but I like how Bing Gordon from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers(say that 3 times fast) uses a framework for what is a ritual.

“Every Company has a small list of golden rituals. A few criteria: They are named. Every employee knows them by the first Friday. They are templated.”

The first two are easy to comprehend. The third is pretty important and highlights that rituals are more than just an abstract concept. It isn’t something emailed to everyone; it requires action and takes “form” so it can be “practiced”. It’s the practice itself that will shape the culture. Routines can start out as rituals but it’s how they are embraced by the people in the organization that will ultimately determine if it will stay as a ritual or become just another routine in the work day. It’s important to remember that routines also have their place and you don’t want too many rituals or they lose the weight they have attached. Again, it reiterates that rituals are tied to a belief or core value.

Why Rituals

There are probably a number of management books that will explain this better than this post could but again it comes down to a belief. An example that resonates with me is from the book Come In, We’re Closed by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy. This is not a management book per se, it’s a recipe book and I mean that literally. It offers the reader a peer behind the “closed” sign at some of the best restaurants in the world for a ritual that is common to them all: the staff meal. These intimate meals where everyone from the kitchen staff to the front of house sit down and share a meal once all the customers are gone. They prepare meals specifically for this sit down event and share in it together.

“At their most poetic, these meals highlight the raw beauty of people from all walks of life breaking bread together….”
“We now believe , more than ever, that how a restaurant feeds its own says a great deal about its values. Those who make a family meal a priority, despite the added cost or time, believe it not only benefits their staff but is also an indirect way of taking care of customers.”

It’s not my intention that organizations start cooking meals for their staff, though there would be nothing wrong with that. The takeaway from this book is that when rituals help bring people together to break down barriers and create a platform for everyone to connect on equal footing, then that has both personal and business benefits. They pave the way for real communication to start happening and allows for bonds to be built that will help define the culture and subcultures within an organization. These rituals can take on many forms, such as regular virtual coffee time with each other

At fikaTime, we enable organizations to have automated one-on-one interactions as coffee chats in Microsoft Teams. These coffee sessions help people get to know each other better to build stronger relationships while the break from “work” meetings empowers people to interact in a less transactional manner. This ritual sends a strong signal that by investing in their relationships at work, “they” count as more than just “Resources.”

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