Every organization has rituals that shape their culture —even if they don’t realize it. From the way they welcome new employees to how they celebrate wins, rituals reinforce the behaviors your organization rewards (or not).
Intentionally-crafted rituals dramatically improve team performance, according to professor Paulo Guenzi:
- They create a shared identity
- They stimulate emotional connection
- They reinforce desired behaviors
For some inspiration, here are seven ways to use rituals to boost your workplace culture.
1. Design a rite of passage
Team rituals are an effective way to welcome new employees.
At Airbnb, employees form a human tunnel through which new employees run. This rite of passage is practiced at the end of all-company meetings to make new employees feel that they belong. However, no-one knows how this ritual got started.
Rites of passage rituals lead to authority within teams. It makes new employees respect culture. Rituals transform newcomers, too — they come out the other side as accepted members.
Atlassian gives new employees a holiday before they start working. By providing a travel voucher for a “Holiday before you start,” the Australian tech company shows how all its employees are trusted equally.
A rite of passage makes a company more welcoming and intriguing.
2. Celebrate business success
Team rituals are an effective way to rally people around company achievements.
At moringa food brand Kuli Kuli, wins are celebrated immediately — and loudly. Anyone can take a moment to recognize team achievements by banging a gong.
The way a company celebrates success reinforces good behavior. Using rituals to acknowledge wins (even small ones) recognizes team effort and builds a positive cadence.
Lisa Chu -CEO of Black n Bianco, an online retailer of kids’ formal clothes- understands this fully. After closing a large purchase order, she thanked each team member with a hand-written letter and a performance bonus.
Celebratory rituals not only boost team morale, but also remind everyone that no contribution goes unnoticed.
3. Encourage people to take sides
Rituals push people to take a stand; they’re either in or out.
Zappos bribes its new employees to quit. The online retailer offers every employee a “Pay to quit” bonus that ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on their tenure.
Wowing its customers is Zappos’ number one priority; the company needs every employee to be fully committed to achieving this purpose. By making it easier for people to quit, Zappos forces people to take a stand.
The offer separates “Zaponnians” from those who don’t have what it takes to wow Zappos’ customers.
By encouraging people to take sides, rituals make the culture stronger for those who stay.
4. Design your company’s future
Rituals not only reinforce the current state of your culture but also help propel you into the future.
Atlassian has a ritual called Painted Picture which is crowdsourced within the company. Every couple of years, employees are invited to close their eyes, open them 10 years into the future and share what they see.
As Jay Simons, president of Atlassian, explains here, “We try to think about things like how big would our customer base be or what kind of revenue or what would our product portfolio look like? We would imagine, boy, in the next 10 years, Atlassian would have delivered a TED talk.”
Long-term centered rituals involve employees in designing the future of the organization.
5. Encourage people to be authentic
Rituals help people bring their full selves to work in an authentic way.
At Southwest Airlines, empathy, luv (love), and humor are paramount. The hilarious safety announcements have become a staple of the low-cost airline.
Most people don’t pay attention to repetitive, dull safety announcements. Southwest Airlines has turned their own into a funny flying ritual. Employees are not only allowed but encouraged to create their own, hilarious safety announcements.
Rituals can help your employees take care of daily responsibilities without having to leave their souls at home.
6. Celebrate (and learn from) failure
Team rituals encourage people to embrace their vulnerability — they make it easier to admit that nobody’s perfect.
At Spotify, teams arrange regular ‘fail-fikas’ (Fika is the Swedish word for having coffee and a chat together). In those fikas, the digital music company makes it okay for people to address and learn from their mistakes.
Spotify actively encourages its engineers to try new things. The Swedish company acknowledges that failure is part of success; its employees cannot afford not to fail.
At social media consultancy NixonMcInnes, the Church of Fail plays a similar role. This ritual invites employees to stand behind a pulpit and confess their most recent mistakes.
The ritual of celebrating errors is crucial to building a learning culture. By making mistakes public, you can ensure that no-one else will repeat the same one.
7. Build a sense of belonging
Simple rituals can create deep emotional connections.
When you walk into Gusto’s San Francisco office, you’ll immediately notice something unusual: nobody is wearing shoes. You’ll be asked to take yours off, too.
This fun “no shoes” ritual originated from Gusto’s founders’ personal experiences. They were all raised in no shoes homes.
When they arrive to work, the HR tech company’s employees place their shoes in cubbyholes at the entrance. Visitors are asked to join the ritual and are even offered Gusto-branded socks.
Workplace rituals bring the company culture to life. In the case of Gusto, it’s about making people really comfortable — just as if they were at home.
Rituals boost your company’s culture by turning small, everyday behaviors into more symbolic acts. They add meaning and joy to people’s jobs.
Workplace rituals need to be authentic — each organization must design and nurture experiences that align with their values and purpose.
Start by looking for any rituals that already exist at your organization. What meaningful ways bring your culture to life?
Rituals can be fun, but they should be meaningful, too. Design rituals that celebrate the behavior you want to reward, not just random ones.