What you should know about rituals...

We all have our rituals. They give us some sense of security and belonging – in the family as well as in the company or in our community.

While rituals in the family refer to having meals together or the way we usually celebrate Christmas or birthday parties, for example, rituals in the organisation may be certain meeting structures, annual performance reviews, and company events such as summer or Christmas parties. Rituals can also be identified in our community. The Shrove Monday parades (Rosenmontagszug) in the German cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf or Mainz surely can be classified as rituals. If the parade is cancelled, for instance in times of the pandemic, the lack of such a ritual causes additional insecurity. All the more remarkable is that the day before yesterday the people of Cologne turned their Shrove Monday parade into a peace demonstration to underline their solidarity with the Ukrainians. They sticked to their ritual and, in the process, additionally reinforced their community by declaring solidarity with another people. I bow to the carnival revelers in Cologne!

In my view, rituals are of major importance for maintaining cohesion in the family, in the company and in society. The pandemic has showed us the negative effects a lack of rituals can have on our society. Because most of us need community and a sense of belonging. If gatherings within families, among friends or in sports clubs, or meetings between colleagues or in a social context (including carnival parades, football matches, village festivals) are cancelled, this has a negative impact on people's mental state. Without rituals, people lack the stability they need as a counterbalance to the constantly changing outside world, and they are deprived of their sense of belonging with others.

What does that mean in terms of rituals in companies? 

If a manager or team leader joins a new company, it is advisable to take a close look at what rituals exist and what purpose they serve. What a 'newbie’ should not do under any circumstance is to become gung ho and simply abolish rituals such as certain meetings, birthday practices or anything else without double-checking with existing staff. 
Rather, you need to develop a certain feel as to which additional rituals might be introduced to strengthen community spirit and the individual team members' sense of belonging. Additional rituals may include, for example, daily short meetings, so-called dailies, or monthly team meetings to improve collaboration (retrospectives). Security may also be provided within meetings by following rituals such as regular check-in or check-out rounds in which everyone has their say at the beginning and end of a meeting. Questions to ask may include: In what mood have you come here today? What are you thinking about? What is important to know about you today? What is it that makes you feel positive today? ...
Rituals may also help teams to better design transformation processes and change management. Rituals that honour the old or celebrate what has been achieved allow for a good farewell, thus creating space and willingness to pull off something new. Even the new can be ritualized in some way – as we already often do as part of kick-off meetings.

In brief: Rituals are well worth the effort!

  • Suggestion #1: Do not be to eager to abolish rituals – they do have a function!
  • Suggestion #2: Look out for rituals that can be introduced to reinforce community spirit and the sense of belonging.
  • Suggestion #3: Rituals may be helpful to design transformation processes: honoring the old is important to allow the new to unfold! 

Postscript – difference between ritual and routine: 

A ritual refers to many or at least several people and promotes the sense of community. A routine tends to refer to one specific individual and to things that he or she normally does. A routine may provide security to one individual, but it cannot strengthen the sense of community.

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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