The Rituals That Bind Us

April 9, 2018

On a recent visit to Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership team in Nashville, the Unstoppable Cultures team was treated to a tour of their offices. At every turn, we encountered symbolism that reinforced their team-oriented culture. To chart sales goals, a stylized climbing wall marked progress. Associates’ photos were posted nearby and decorated with carabiners to denote milestones, such as years of service. You could almost hear chants of “Belay on” in the background. Yet, another symbol that is probably a more pervasive feature in offices across the globe was a bell in the middle of EntreLeadership’s office. This bell was large, elaborate and could be heard throughout the office when goals were achieved.

This encounter with the bell caused me to remember how as a young leader, I used a less-grand bell to gather my team when a joyful or critical announcement demanded everyone’s involvement. Yes, this was before the days of sending an email meeting appointment or a group text. There was something exciting and urgent about hearing that bell, and I suspect it would be a novel throwback ritual in most offices today.

The bell. The climbing wall and earned carabiners. All are examples of rituals that bind colleagues toward a common goal or common understanding. Rituals can also serve to bring people together who might not commonly work alongside each other.At Unstoppable Cultures, we talk about three pillars that mark cultures of enduring greatness, with one being nurturing cultures through systems. Workplace rituals are just one example of an intentional system leaders can and should put in place to connect employees with a core value or purpose.

Companies practice all types of recurring rituals.

  • At Walmart stores, workers begin the day with a company cheer.
  • Flipboard has “Mock O’Clock” where employees share informal demos of their projects as a means to encourage collaboration.
  • At Yelp, salespeople bang a gong when they close a sale.
  • One of the most unique rituals can be found at Ideo: Wednesday tea time.

For further inspiration regarding rituals I looked to Laurel Harper, a leader in People Operations at Whataburger, who provided an expansive description of a ritual called WhataGames that has been a part of that company’s culture since 1996. Laurel said, “It’s an intense six-month long bi-annual competition where employees, who we call Family Members, compete to win more than $200,000 in cash prizes to all members of the Gold, Silver and Bronze winning teams. The friendly, spirited competition is a way to support Whataburger’s commitment to freshness, quality and customer service while investing in our Family Members.

“During the competition, restaurant teams demonstrate their knowledge of company history and restaurant procedures, how they deliver customer service and build high performing teams. Every restaurant systemwide, now more than 820, starts in the competition before being narrowed down to semifinalists. Then the finalists head to WhataGames where the winning teams take home the prize along with cash for the team members that stayed behind to operate their restaurants.

“What started as a training exercise over 20 years ago has become a big part of Whataburger culture. We’ve 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.”

In some cases, a well-worn ritual may require a facelift. Southwest Airlines held an after-hours Friday Deck Party on its headquarters’ outdoor deck for decades. It provided a way for employees to interact and let off steam after a long week. But as the company grew, this practice morphed into a Monday Deck Party which allowed newly hired employees who arrive for training each Monday to interact with more tenured employees and gain a deeper understanding of the culture.

Let us know about your company rituals. Is there one you’ve been doing for a long time that’s ready for a facelift? Or perhaps it’s time to start a new ritual that nourishes the culture you wish to be. We would love to help by inviting you to be part of the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship, where you will experience meaningful time with renowned culture architects discussing and solving your real-life culture issues; maybe you will leave Santa Fe with a new workplace ritual to launch!

Whether your rituals are about eating, celebrating, competing, or collaboration, it’s certain that employees forge a stronger bond and deeper appreciation for the organization because of these meaningful practices.

P.S. For more on implementing workplace rituals see: Three Rules For Creating Workplace Rituals To Improve Company Culture

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