Today's author is Communications team member Kym Dakin!
What’s your morning routine?
Have you thought about it? Do you know why you take the same actions consistently to greet the day? Are you aware of how you feel when, for any reason, you can’t complete them?
My summer morning routine involves the following: start the kettle boiling, wipe off the chairs on the deck, get the cushions for said chairs from the garage. Set the tea bags brewing for 5 minutes, do the 5 Tibetan Rhythms, remove tea bags, bring books, iPad and tea out to the deck, connect with my goals for the day through my Best Self journal.
When I have an early morning work commitment, which means I can’t follow this protocol, the day doesn’t go as well. It just doesn’t. So I’ve started getting up WAY early on those days, just so I can do my morning ritual.
Rituals and Meaning
I’ll define the word “rituals” here as the actions we do over and over to reinforce meaning. Many of our rituals: birthdays, holiday celebrations, anniversaries, were easily taken for granted, and/or begrudgingly tolerated in our achievement-driven culture.
Then Came the Pandemic
Suddenly those actions that connect us as a species were ripped away. And a profound loneliness, a jagged disconnection, took their place. We were taught a painful lesson about the value of ritual.
In the workplace, we have rituals too: inductions, promotions and retirements are only a few of the more familiar. (Although, in trying to find a graphic for this post – a search under “workplace rituals” offered all these photos of guys shaving…really. ) And again, we may find ourselves impatient with having to make time for these rather arcane protocols, but they do connect us, one to the other.
This makes me curious… what would it be like to work in an organization without meaningful rituals?
What would be missing? Plenty, as it turns out.
I’m on the board of a local branch of an international non- profit. We get together to create consistent, organized public events. There is a structure and a sequence to the actions needed in producing these events, so the ritual in how things get done is very clear. It’s like baking, right?
The ingredients and the process is predictable and reinforced over time. You can vary the recipe, improve it even, but if you vary it too much….. it’s a different animal altogether.
In this group however, I am keenly aware of the absence of interpersonal rituals that make people feel part of the effort. It’s rather ad hoc; people do things that they are used to doing and everyone rallies when problems come up, and then…. it all comes together. So the product gets produced, but there are no rituals for anything having to do with group cohesion. There are, for instance, no established protocols for welcoming people into the group and/or assisting them in finding ways to be helpful. Even members with prestigious titles or who represent valued partnerships do not necessarily get introduced or welcomed. No one is acknowledged for doing good work or making a special effort in specific areas, and the “post mortem” after each event is largely focused on what went wrong and what needs fixing for next time.
If this Organization were its own Planet:
Stay with me here – the landscape would be rather bleak, murky, the available resources not immediately obvious.
The “Natives” would not express much curiosity or interest in someone from outside their known world, and it would be up to the visitor to actively observe any clues; language, behaviors, appearance etc. for how one becomes part of this group. Kind of what Seth Godin might describe as Planet “Inertia”….
If this organization were a for-profit entity, how would this absence of ritual effect the working culture? How would it impact morale, retention…. the bottom line?
Reinforcing the ATD elements:
Research done by Terrance Deal and Allan Kennedy regarding the impact of ritualistic culture on the profitability of nearly 80 companies determined that the highest performers had in common one clear factor: all of them applied intentional rituals to reinforce a desired company culture.
Paolo Guenzi, author of “Leading Teams – Tools and Techniques for Successful Team Leadership from the Sports World” and Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., author of: Nine Things Successful People Do Differently cite four general benefits of workplace ritual.
Reduces Anxiety: Heading into a nerve-wracking session with a client, making a pitch, asking for a raise, you can help yourself by doing one of Amy Cuddy’s Power Stances, and your team can get galvanized to clinch that deal by creating a ritual like a “group shake” everyone shakes themselves all over while shouting “Shit!” at the top of their lungs. The resulting laughter stimulates breathing and better breathing is good for the brain.
Helps us Focus:
Mindfulness practices are especially prevalent in Asian cultures, as well as multiple religious traditions around the world, because they prove highly effective in boosting individual productivity and decreasing interpersonal stress.
Creates Shared Identity:
Inter-company sports competitions are particularly effective in getting people to bond quickly as a team. An extreme example? Denmark’s Grundfos Olympics, engaging 1,000 employees in 55 countries.
Many of the foreign participants are welcomed into employee’s homes, further cementing employee relationships across the globe.
Reinforces Desired Behaviors:
Bosch Automotive wanted to spur more innovation and risk taking in their Key Account Managers. But in a largely hierarchical culture, many of the KAMs were notably reticent to speak up much in meetings. In order to engage their input, Bosch put together a color card ritual: saying nothing in a meeting gains a KAM a yellow card, if the same thing happens the next time, s/he is issued a red card and not invited to the next meeting. The message was strongly reinforced: “Don’t come to the meeting unless you are willing to speak up.” Over time, this ritual stimulated input from some of the most reticent KAMs, who often had the most valuable ideas to contribute.
ATD Chimes in…
As a learning entity focused on employee engagement, development, and education, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) refers, at least tangentially, to the importance of these elements in The ATD Capability Model in the following aptitudes, found under “Impacting Organizational Capability/Organization Development and Culture”:
- Knowledge of the principles, policies, and practices associated with programs and initiatives designed for organizational well- being
- Knowledge of strategies and techniques for building, supporting, and/or promoting an organizational culture that values talent and learning as drivers of competitive advantage.
- Skill in designing and implementing employee engagement strategy.
Another Take on Ritual:
McKinsey & Company’s Marvin Bower commented on the ritualistic “style” of working companies that he described as “the way we do things around here”. I knew instinctively what he was talking about, though my reference was from another world entirely. In theatre performance, “the way we do things around here” is known as “Style”. The world of the story gets reinforced through specific behaviors, clothing, pace, and communication patterns. A theatre company worth the price of admission would spend considerable time determining and reinforcing the stylistic rituals that define the culture of a particular play. Just as my non-profit board culture would benefit from defining the elements of our own group “style” and, even more importantly, how to graciously communicate it to prospective members.
I hope this post sparks some curiosity about “the way you do things” wherever you find yourself in these long hot summer days.
Kym Dakin is a Public Speaking Coach, a certified Mindset Coach, ATD member and published author.
Her book: “Using Head, Heart & Hands Listening in Coach Practice will be published by Routledge Publishing in October 2022. See more at kymdakin.com