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How Rituals Build Culture

If you’ve ever been to Kenney Gym at University of  Illinois and witnessed a practice, you might have noticed something a little different about the way that gymnasts show up each day. According to Matt Bradley ,”As each gymnast walks through the doorway, they bow in the direction of the champion-ship banners that hang high in the rafters. The bow is a forty-year-old tradition, brought to the program by legendary head coach, Yoshi Hayasaki. It’s a way to symbolize the respect they have for the great Illini gymnasts of the past, as well as recognizing that you are now entering the gym. Your job is now to do the best gymnastics you can that day, while leaving other outside distractions behind.”

Rituals are an intentional building block of culture.  Some rituals happen accidentally like the morning gathering at the coffee maker or water cooler and some seem to have extreme meaning and impact on the organization.  Every ritual that develops has some sort of impact on the culture in your organization.

Here are a few examples of Rituals inside various organizations, and the meaning that they represent:

  • Daily Huddle: At PlanPlus Online and many other organizations there is a ritual of a Daily Huddle. This is a “all-hands” 7 minute meeting held at 10:55 each day where the staff gathers and shares good news; shares numbers and analysis, brings up issues or concerns, and has a #WordOfTheDay Cheer each day to finish the meeting.  The purpose is to foster communication, awareness, and to provide a shot of good energy to everyone at a point in the day when collective energy might be dropping.
  • Pre-flight checklist: Any time an airplane pilot prepares for a new flight they go through a ritual of a preflight checklist. This checklist has a series of redundant steps that a pilot must complete on every single flight. If you get complacent with this ritual, lives are at stake.  The purpose of this ritual is safety.
  • The Gatorade Shower Celebration. In football,  there is a certain ritual that has developed where a winning coach receives an ice cold shower from the water cooler.  According to wikipedia (the source of truth for all things), this ritual started in 1985 with the New York Giants when they doused head coach Bill Parcels.
  • Exercise before work. In Japan, many citizens and workers take part in mass exercise drills, known as rajio taiso (translated as morning exercise). This ritual  has been used by Employers in Japan  for decades to help motivate good performance, and boost productivity. The tradition has been adopted by some US companies as well however most have simply made gyms or other workout facilities available.
  • 4-Square twice a Day. One day on a visit to a US company, ZAGG, I was invited to join in a spontaneous game of 4-square.  This is the same elementary school game that is played with a large bouncy rubber ball and 4 large connected squares drawn with tape on the floor.  At ZAGG, employees gather twice a day, morning and afternoon for a quick 15 minute competitive elimination, winner take all game of 4 square.
  • The Sales Gong.  In many sales organization the sales gong has come to symbolize and ritualize success in sales.  In a sales gong culture, there is a gong that sales people are able to hit each time they make a sale. The gong is a particularly effective sound because of it’s frequency is loud enough to be heard through the office, and therefore shares the “sound of success” across departments, and yet is not so loud that it is overly distracting for other reps who are on the phones.

What other rituals exist in your organization, or other organizations that you are aware of?  Please share them in comments or send to Keith at PlanPlusOnline dot com or @CultureExperts on twitter.

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