Ritual Revolution: How Workplace Rituals Enhance Propinquity

Rituals in the workplace build a positive organizational culture. By incorporating purposeful rituals, you can create a more meaningful and connected experience for your employees, which ultimately leads to improved performance and satisfaction in the workplace. 

I worked for a startup that had many rituals (let’s call it Startup X). But we never called these practices rituals. They were just part of the normal day-to-day of the company, but over time, they became accepted parts of our culture and when we did not do them, it felt strange, like something was missing.

That’s because rituals are intentional actions that follow a particular repeatable pattern and often become a habit or routine. Certain words or phrases, symbolic props, and patterned movements are used to elevate everyday moments into meaningful and memorable experiences. Rituals have a unique ability to make intangible values and beliefs concrete because they bridge the mind and the body, the two ways humans process and make sense of the world.

We use rituals all the time in religion, politics, and sports to help groups navigate change, form a shared sense of identify and purpose, and enhance performance – but we forget they can also be incredibly powerful at work in the following ways:

  • Shared Experiences: Rituals often involve shared activities, ceremonies, or routines that create a collective experience. When individuals participate in a shared ritual, they establish a common ground, forming bonds and connections that go beyond their individual roles.
  • Cultural Identity: Rituals contribute to the formation and reinforcement of organizational culture. They define the values, norms, and shared identity within a group. As individuals engage in these cultural rituals, they become part of a larger community, enhancing their sense of belonging and connection.
  • Emotional Connection: Many rituals evoke emotions, whether through symbolic gestures, celebrations, or team-building activities. Emotional experiences create lasting memories and contribute to a sense of unity. When people share emotional moments, it strengthens their interpersonal connections and promotes propinquity.
  • Communication and Collaboration: Rituals often involve communication and collaboration, encouraging individuals to interact in ways that go beyond formal work tasks. Whether it’s a daily stand-up meeting or a team-building ritual, these interactions facilitate communication, cooperation, and the building of social networks.
  • Reduction of Social Barriers: Rituals can break down social barriers and hierarchies. By participating in shared rituals, individuals may feel more comfortable interacting with colleagues at all levels, leading to a more inclusive and cohesive environment.
  • Establishing Trust: Trust is a fundamental component of propinquity. Rituals, especially those focused on team building contribute to the establishment of trust among team members. This trust, in turn, enhances collaboration and cooperation.

Erika Keswin, a workplace strategist and author of the book “Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Surefire Ways to Design a Workplace That Is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World,” sees workplace rituals as powerful tools and provides tips for creating rituals in your workplace:

  • Identify existing rituals by asking employees “When do you feel most like you are part of the company?” This helps recognize organic rituals already taking place.
  • Think about opportunities within the employee lifecycle to intentionally add new rituals, such as during recruiting, onboarding, professional development, celebrating milestones, or starting/ending the day.
  • Rituals should have three components: meaning/intention behind them, a regular cadence (daily, weekly, etc.), and going beyond just the practical purpose.
  • Get feedback from employees on new ritual ideas, be willing to iterate, and don’t force rituals – let them develop organically.
  • Psychological Safety + Purpose = Performance. Keswin says to focus on the “three Ps”: creating rituals that provide psychological safety, connect people to the company’s purpose, and drive performance.
  • Simple rituals can be powerful, like having coffee with founders during onboarding or sharing “fun facts” about new hires.

Authors Kursat Ozenc, Ph.D, and Margaret Hagan, Ph.D, delve into the transformative power of rituals in their book, “Rituals for Work: 50 Ways to Create Engagement, Shared Purpose, and a Culture That Can Adapt to Change.” Ozenc and Hagen explore five types of workplace rituals with some ideas for each.

Creativity and Innovation Rituals

  • Innovation Hackathons – A hackathon or problem-solving session involving multiple disciplines where teams dedicate time to brainstorming and developing creative solutions encourage collaboration and a sense of purpose, especially if the teams are cross-functional.
  • Creative Warm-Up Exercises – Start meetings with short creative warm-up exercises, such as quick doodling, word associations, or other activities shift participants into a more creative mindset.

Performance and Flow Rituals

  • Morning Mindfulness or Visualization – Start the day with a brief mindfulness exercise or visualization to center the mind and set a positive tone for the work ahead.
  • Daily Stand-up Meetings – At Startup X, our daily stand-up was a ritual. Teams gathered to discuss priorities, share updates, and align on goals for the day, promoting communication and collaboration.
  • Friday Afternoon Reflections – At the end of the week, teams come together for a brief reflection session, sharing accomplishments, challenges faced, and lessons learned. This ritual promotes continuous improvement and team learning.
  • Regular All-Hands or Town Hall Meetings – Regular All-Hands or Town Hall meetings are rituals where leadership communicates key updates, highlights accomplishments, and addresses concerns, which fosters transparency and a sense of community.

Conflict and Resilience Rituals

  • Retrospective Meetings – After completing a project or a significant milestone, hold a retrospective meeting to allow the team to reflect on what went well, what could be improved, and how to apply lessons learned in future endeavors.
  • Gratitude Circles – Expressing gratitude is always a good thing to do, in good times and bad. But expressing gratitude in times of challenge is a ritual that can foster closeness and create a positive and appreciative culture.

Community and Team Building Rituals

  • Weekly Team Lunch or Breakfast – Having a weekly team meal, whether it’s breakfast or lunch, provides an informal setting for team members to bond, share experiences, and build relationships outside of work tasks.
  • Recognition Rituals – Regularly recognizing and celebrating individual and team achievements fosters a positive culture. This can include shout-outs during meetings, an “Employee of the Month” award, or a recognition wall. At Startup X, back in the day with everyone worked in the office, the peer recognition award took on a sweet ritual. We made a custom stuffed “spirit animal” that was presented by the nominator to the awardee during our All-Hands meetings. The nominator spoke about what company value the awardee exemplified and the awardee received the stuffed animal in front of their peers to cheers and applause.

Change and Transition Rituals

  • Onboarding Rituals – Designing a structured onboarding process with welcoming rituals for new hires helps integrate them into the company culture and builds a sense of belonging. Rituals can be as casual and informal as a coffee with the CEO, or as elaborate as a monthly new hire celebration. At Startup X, each new employee worked on an actual project during their first week and then presented their work at the Friday Happy Hour. The new employee shared a little about their personal life as an introduction and then shared their project and solution. All solutions were implemented immediately, reinforcing the message that the new employee was “one of us.”
  • Birthday or Work Anniversary Celebrations – Recognizing and celebrating employees’ birthdays or work anniversaries is a simple yet effective ritual that shows appreciation and strengthens the personal connection among team members. At Startup X, the founders held a monthly birthday lunch offsite at a restaurant known for their elaborate birthday celebrations.

Rituals provide opportunities for enhancing propinquity by fostering social interactions beyond just work tasks. Rituals help build a sense of belonging, connection, and bonding among colleagues. They can imbue work with more meaning and purpose and provide opportunities for positive emotions and shared experiences.

Rituals can improve employee engagement, motivation, and willingness to help others and contribute to a strong company culture, especially in remote and hybrid environments. When integrated thoughtfully into the workplace, rituals become a powerful tool for building a connected and engaged community.

+One’s Favorite Reads on Rituals:

Stanford’s Ritual Design Lab’s book “Rituals for Virtual Meetings: Creative Ways to Engage People and Strengthen Relationships

The book highlights remote rituals from companies around the world that help with focus, connection, flow, and more.

 

Erica Keswin’s book “Rituals Roadmap

The book traces the employee lifecycle from the first day to the last day and everything in between and shares stories and examples of rituals in action.

About the Author:

Jocelyn Manuel brings two decades of rich and diverse experiences and expertise to her role as Director of Consulting Services at +One. From the first touchpoint throughout the entire client life cycle, Jocelyn is passionate about helping organizations—and the people who comprise them—to achieve lasting success by cultivating a positive and impactful workplace culture.