Every person has them—some conscious, some unconscious. Rituals can be as small as putting milk in your morning coffee, or as big as exercising for an hour every morning. Workplaces have them too, though sometimes we call them something different—an annual review, perhaps, or an onboarding program. But rituals are the best way to shape behavior, to build cultures of constant transformation, and to spark change. They don’t even have to be big to shape and reinforce new behaviors, and we’ve summarized some of the best ones here at SYPartners as a series of ritual cards. Here are some of the best examples.
There’s lots of different ways to put your colleagues into someone else’s shoes. One company has new hires field customer calls for their first three weeks on the job, as a way of better understanding the clientele they’ll be serving. Another assigns junior employees to executive management in a sort of reverse-mentorship program, giving decision-makers a better window into the lives of their younger colleagues. Another that contracts with the military mixes both ideas to have employees literally walk in their clients’ shoes—they wear heavy backpacks, eat rations, read deployment letters, all as an onboarding ritual.
The idea of these rituals is to inspire ideas from places you might not otherwise consider. It’s a way to build up empathy, of course, but also to stimulate people to think about things from a different perspective. You can also indulge in a “seeing tour,” which gets clients out of the office to visit different kinds of businesses, or bring in an artist-in-resident to encourage new kinds of creativity that might not otherwise have a chance to flourish in the office. These are all easy rituals to incorporate, and they’re all ways to shake up points of view.
Another thing you might want to encourage in your office is the pace at which decisions are made and brainstorming happens. Rather than bogging people down in endless meetings and surveys, there are often faster ways to accomplish things, particularly as part of a ritual. One marketing group removes chairs from the meeting room to make things feel more urgent; that company also encourages people to decline one meeting request per week, if it feels unworthy of their time. Some places have a limit on how long emails can be—three lines at most, say—to save everyone precious minutes as they go through their inbox.
Tech companies like to gamify their training material into bite-sized chunks, to spread things out over the course of onboarding and make things fun. One specific internet company goes the opposite way, packing things all into one 24-hour session that becomes an enjoyable gauntlet to run as you come aboard. You can also turn this into an adventure for long-time employees, blocking out time for a “fix-it” session that focuses everybody on one specific problem.
Want to change perspectives in even more extreme ways? Try really keeping employees on their toes with workplace “games” like musical chairs—in which everyone has to relocate within the office every 3-6 months just to meet new people, have new conversations, and discover new perspectives. If that sounds too exhausting, maybe just find other ways for colleagues to meet each other. One concept is the “3-minute knowledge share,” where someone imparts a lesson on a particular skill they have in a bite-sized session with co-workers.
You can expand that out into a weekly “mock-o-clock” ritual, where one employee has to give a presentation on the status of their latest project, just to keep everyone abreast of what everyone else is working on (and more importantly, how they’re working on it). Does that sound too scary? Then go for a more casual “tea time,” where every day at a particular time (say, 4pm) a bell is rung and everyone needs to take a ten-minute break to drink tea and socialize. Disruptive? Sure! But it gets people talking, which is sometimes what you’re really looking for in terms of fostering collaboration. If you want to be even looser, go for a “swarm,” where everyone just has to mingle around the office and contribute ideas to anyone they might come across.
If that all sounds a little anarchic, there are rituals that are more geared towards investing people into the workplace in a more personal, thought-through way. One luxury hotel brand has a 15-minute morning “line-up” session that helps people plan for the day and talk about the customer service issues they’ve been dealing with, essentially combining sharing out with forward thinking. Another media company did away with performance reviews and replaced them with informal “360” sessions involving co-workers, where people advise their colleagues on what they should stop, start, and continue.
Competition is often fun—one company encourages employees to develop, test, and produce a concept with no corporate overhead, with prizes for the winner. Another has a jokey award called the “Failure of the Week” that recognizes an employee for trying something out that didn’t work, as a way of acknowledging risk-taking even when it doesn’t succeed. Or, if you want colleagues to feel more invested in the company’s future, you can create an anonymous message board for people to post constructive criticism, or an internal workshop group for any passion project for things people want to pursue.
All those ideas and many more are available at SYPartners. They’re disparate concepts, spaced out in all kinds of interesting ways. But what’s shared between them is the idea of ritual—something everyone at the company knows about, looks forward to, and relies on as a way to generate ideas and accept criticism. There’s so many ways to make these kinds of routines fun rather than boring. You just have to find the one that works for you.