Sitting around the table with your family for your favorite holiday and then playing board games together afterward can be a sacred social ritual that contains special moments that have lasting significance.

Rituals are surprisingly ubiquitous across cultures and time and have played a role, for better or for worse, in the lives of individuals and societies.  Our ancient ancestors used the bond of ritual to create ties of kinship necessary for survival in a world rife with dangers.  The ritual of storytelling around a fire was used to pass down wisdom and beliefs across generations. 

In modern times, for some people, this word can conjure up a negative connotation because it may remind us of the practices that we had to do when we were young to appease our families.  Perhaps we did not want to do them or even know the reasons for why we were partaking — I always wondered about going to confession when I was not in the mood to share my secrets.  However, simple social rituals like a bedtime routine, keeping a gratitude journal, or a Thursday evening walk to the ice cream shop with your partner can help us consistently engage in our core values by fostering healthy and positive habits for our mind. 

The benefits of social rituals that we choose:

1. It allows for presence.  In our hyper-paced world, we can easily become anxious by ruminating on the past or being worried about the future, but when we spend more time in the present, we gain a greater sense of control and wellbeing. Doing the same activity every day and choosing to be mindful and fully present means that we will both receive the most from, and give the most to the experience.  Top sports players are well known for their pre-match rituals.  Serena Williams always bounces the ball five times on her first serve and twice on her second.  She wears the same pair of socks for the duration of a tournament.  She has even blamed losing on not following her ritual.

2. It provides structure and comfort.  It gives a sense of stability and continuity amidst the ever-changing, hectic, and often chaotic world.  Knowing that there is a practice that we consistently turn to provides familiarity and control over a changing world.

3. It offers a sense of renewal.  Metaphorically, rituals are oases, a time to rest, replenish, and restore ourselves on our long and winding path through life.  The time-out from our cyclic existence can provide mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, especially while we are connecting with others.

4. Increases self-control.  Harvard Business Professor Francesco Gina and colleagues wrote about the use of rituals to help with self-control. Their study compared two groups of people who had the goal of losing weight. The first group was told to be mindful of what they ate for five days.  The second group had to engage in a three-step pre-meal ritual.  Step 1: cut their food.  Step 2: arrange their food symmetrically on the plate.  Step 3. tap their food three times with the utensil before eating.  The second group who followed the ritual ate less on average.   Going through these steps made them more mindful of the process and had a more significant impact on their goal of eating in moderation.

The benefits of rituals in teams and organizations:

Secular rituals or repeated enactments of a particular set of behaviors, scripts, and interactions can be a great tool to shape company cultures.

1. It is a way to stay connected.  Setting aside quality time to better relate with others and build a strong sense of community is everything.  Rituals can provide purpose, values, and meaning, while also bringing us together.  It can be a way to reinforce our identity.  Many workplaces have rituals for this exact objective.  At Walmart, workers begin the day with a company cheer.  At Yelp, salespeople bang a gong when they close a sale.  When I was at Penn State for college, I encountered a ritual that I initially found quirky but then wholly embraced because it made me feel more connected with my classmates. Walking through campus or the town, you would hear crowds spontaneously erupt with chants “We Are?!” and then they would wait for the only response from all to join in “Penn State!” As my group of friends would proudly respond in unison, it made us feel more connected to each other and this special experience. Ritual is what allows us to gather the energy needed to achieve great things, often beyond what we could imagine ourselves capable of. 

2. Rituals can be motivating.  Athletes who come together and do a cheer before the start of a game feel linked and energized.  Rituals can motivate a team to excel together.  A few years ago, Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School Professor, led a study in which 221 people were grouped into small teams and assigned to run around campus taking group selfies in front of specific locations, earning points for how many photos they completed in 45 minutes.  Before they began, one group was instructed to form a circle and perform a series of rhythmic claps and foot stomps, followed by a chant of “Let’s go” — a ritual they repeated three times.  The other groups spent this time reading an article in silence.  When the scavenger hunt finished, the groups that had executed the pre-hunt ritual had outscored the no-ritual groups — and they also reported liking teammates more.

Engaging in a social ritual for your team can create special bonding moments that can boost performance and create lasting memories.

Quote of the day: “The human soul can always use a new tradition.  Sometimes we require them.” -Author Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline   

Q: What are your favorite individual or team rituals that help you feel more connected?  Comment and share below, we would love to hear from you!

*The next and final blog in this team series 10/10 will provide common ways to build community in your teams.


As a Leadership Development & Team Coach, I work with teams to create rituals for peak performance and community building. Contact me to learn more.

What are your team rituals?