Team rituals help design your culture with a purpose, not by accident
Culture is what people repeatedly do — it can happen by accident or by design.Watching the All Blacks perform the Haka is an intimidating experience for their rivals. You wouldn’t expect those brutal rugby players to care about the tidiness of the locker room, right? New Zealand’s national rugby team credits its success to all their rituals, not just the Haka — a spotless dressing room also matters. The cleaning ritual that happens right after a match is designed to show thanks, build humility, and reinforce that all members are equal. Rituals drive small and tangible improvements to any team, not just in sports. When a behavior is repeated over time, it becomes part of the culture’s muscle memory. According to anthropologist Victor Turner, rituals have a unique power to bring people together — they give us a sense of purpose, values, and meaning. Rituals are a powerful tool to purposefully generate change, rather than by accident.
The Power of Designing RitualsThe culture of any organization is a curious beast — it has a life of its own. Culture is driven by both visible and invisible forces — rituals create a bridge between the two. They bring together the behaviors management expects and what people do. Rituals are a repeated enactment of a particular set of behaviors, scripts, and interactions — they wire our brain for success. Research shows that rituals help us overcome negative experiences, but also to appreciate everyday things. In the workplace, they can encourage desired behaviors and build a sense of belonging. “Nooglers,” new employees at Google, wear beanie hats with propellers on top. Far from feeling ridiculous, the ritual makes the new hires feel part of an exclusive group. Rituals shape the culture, not just behaviors. A ritual design is meant to address behaviors that get in the way of achieving our goals. Rituals can be light or fun, but their primary purpose is to solve a real problem. By redesigning how people collaborate and interact, you move the culture forward.
As Tim Brown says, “Rituals create a constant nudging so that, over time, a culture learns to do something naturally and intuitively.”Not all rituals are created equal. Some solve bigger problems; others address everyday issues. Rituals must be human-centered and authentic — they must create excitement, not resistance. Designing a ritual is a fun experience that invites everyone to craft and shape culture. That’s why I use them very often when facilitating a team offsite. People become more engaged as they are solving a team problem.