Rituals That Bind Us

July 31, 2023

A discussion on creating connection, purpose and productivity through workplace rituals.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership team and touring their incredible campus. Everywhere I turned, I saw symbolism that reinforced their team-oriented culture shine through. To chart sales goals, a stylized climbing wall creatively marked progress. Sales associates and their milestones were celebrated through photos that were decorated with carabiners and marked with important accomplishments, such as years of service. The powerful theme echoed throughout the halls, but an even more pervasive symbol caught my eye: a bell was perched in the middle of the EntreLeadership’s office. This bell is a feature in offices across the globe, and stands proud, loud and elaborate with a ring loud enough to be heard throughout the whole office when goals are achieved.

This bell brought up fond memories of how as a young leader, I used a (much less grand) bell to gather my team together when a joyful or critical announcement demanded everyone’s attention and involvement. There was something so exciting and urgent about hearing that bell, and I suspect it would be a novel throwback ritual in most offices today (especially for those who remember the days before smartphones.)

Whether it’s a bell or a climbing wall and earned carabiners, rituals center colleagues together around a common goal and understanding. They bond existing teams closer and bring together people who might not commonly work alongside each other. At Unstoppable Cultures, we talk about three pillars that mark cultures of enduring greatness, one of which is nurturing cultures through systems. Workplace rituals are just one example of an intentional system that leaders can and should put into place to connect employees with a core value or purpose on a regular basis. According to a recent study by Harvard Business Review, rituals mean so much to us because they support psychological safety and purpose in the workplace, which leads to increased performance.

Companies practice all types of recurring rituals tailored to their unique culture:

  • Walmart stores kickstart their day with a company cheer, fostering a sense of unity and enthusiasm. 
  • At Flipboard, employees participate in “Mock O’Clock,” where they share informal project demos to encourage collaboration. 
  • Range has a 30-minute virtual game time every Tuesday, which offers an opportunity for every employee, regardless of their team, to connect with co-workers and have a little fun.
  • Jobs for the Future has “Mindful Mondays,” a time for reflection across the team—a shared way of reflecting, both individually and communally, on how the week was going.
  • Other remote teams look forward to trading daily encouraging words and motivation via #Team-gratitude Slack channels.

Beyond productivity and performance, sales goals and accolades, rituals that encourage fun are just as critical. Laurel Flaningan, the former Head of People Operations at Whataburger, shared about a beloved Whataburger ritual called WhataGames, that has been an integral part of the company’s culture since 1996. The six-month bi-annual competition brings together Whataburger employees (referred to as Family Members) to compete to win more than $200,000 in cash prizes to all members of the Gold, Silver and Bronze winning teams. The competition engages Family Members all across the country and builds camaraderie and unity while also developing a deeper understanding of company procedures and culture. 

“You won’t find anything like WhataGames anywhere else in the industry. It’s an investment in training and a celebration that showcases the talent of our restaurant Family Members,” said Ed Nelson, CEO and President of Whataburger. “Whether it’s serving up hot, fresh burgers, mastering curve-ball custom orders, or challenging our maintenance finalists to find and fix equipment issues, WhataGames finalists put their passion and expertise to the test to determine who truly is the best in the business.”

“What started as a training exercise over 25 years ago has become a big part of Whataburger culture. During my time with the company, I heard feedback that our Family Members love being able to connect with one another and are proud that Whataburger is genuinely investing in them in meaningful ways.” added Laurel.

While some rituals stand the test of time for decades, other well-worn rituals may require a refresh. Consider your own company rituals. Are there any old rituals that could use a facelift or update to fit the remote environment? Or perhaps it’s time to introduce new rituals that nourish the desired culture. We invite you to join The Fellowship, where you can spend time with renowned culture architects in an up-close and personal environment, discussing and solving real-life culture challenges. Who knows, you might leave Santa Fe with a new workplace ritual to launch!

Regardless of whether your rituals revolve around dining, celebrating, competing, or collaborating, they undoubtedly strengthen the bond between employees and deepen their appreciation for the organization through these meaningful practices.


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