with greg layton

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Our High Performance Teams series now enters part 15, where we finalise the 5 key elements that drive a High Performance Culture, namely the rituals & traditions of the team.

We cover how to overcome those periods in work or business life when it has become a bit soulless, a bit toxic and is all work, and no play.

One of the best ways is to use rituals and traditions to create meaning and a sense of belonging to your team and get the trust back on track.

In this episode, I outline:

  • The history of rituals and traditions and why they are so important, no matter the context;
  • When rituals and traditions take on a negative form and what good ones should look like;
  • 6 topics that will guide you around rituals and traditions and some really great, specific examples;
  • How it's important to remember that you are the chief story-teller and your team will look to you to create rituals and traditions that energise them and ultimately will drive high performance.

Why rituals and traditions?

The wonderful thing about rituals and traditions is that humans have celebrated what it means to be part of a tribe through all of history, whether that be through dance, songs, anthems, war cries, clothing, stories.

“Traditions at their best are noble. Everyone in the group acquires a sense of belonging, and a deepening of trust and bonds.” – Damien Price, Spiritual Mentor

These activities promote meaning and membership of an identifiable group, and ultimately, can drive the group towards excellence. The converse of no trust or meaning, of course, is when people start looking outwardly to get their fix.

What are the pitfalls of rituals and traditions?

At their worst, they can sacrifice the values of the group, and actually scare good people away. We've all heard of the terrible initiation ceremonies in the military or sporting teams. Well, they exist in the business world as well, even though we might not even call them rituals and traditions.

Great rituals and traditions should bring forth your values, the right spirit in the team, and you. As the leader of the team, you are the chief story-teller and it's your job to craft and cultivate the right rituals and traditions. But be careful, as you don't want to over-manufacture them.

They've got to be both organic and must fit the group, that is, they have the right language and they have the right congruency to who you are as a team.

Examples of great rituals and traditions

1. Starting meetings

Think about the ways that you start meetings and greet one another. I've seen some wonderful examples, in both the business and the sporting context, where no meeting starts until everyone in the room has shaken the hand of everybody else, looked them in the eye and greeted them.

Then, think about the way that you actually begin a meeting. What is the first thing you say and do? Another magic example I've seen many times is that people read out a specific quote, or an example of a great customer story or customer feedback, or share their favourite poem.

These are ways of kicking off a meeting and creating a bit of a ritual that gets the people in the room in the right frame of mind.

2. Finishing meetings

Maybe you could finish with a bit of a mantra, such as, “We're going to go and stay epic. We're going to go and kick some ass. What are you going to go and do now?”

Come up with some words that are unique to you as a team, that you can say at the end of a meeting.

3. Awards

I've become a really big fan of monthly awards in a team. You can have both values-based awards and fun awards, and you give them a theme and you give the recipient a proper trophy. And most importantly, you have a real process for awarding those every single month.

I remember when I was working for an organisation a while ago, and they were all about “above-and-beyond” as one of their values. They created the Buzz Lightyear Award (straight out of the Toy Story movie!). They got the Buzz Lightyear figurine, they put it on a big trophy stand and every month that was handed out to the person in the organisation that went above and beyond for their internal customers.

There was another organisation for which I worked, which was a mining team. They created the Shaft Award for the person that had the biggest stuff-up of the month. It was a fun award and people really didn't want to get it, because they had to get up and explain what they did wrong. However, it created humour and fun and because it was always awarded at the end of the month at a team barbeque over a beer and a glass of wine, it was done in the appropriate environment where everyone was relaxed. It was a wonderful bonding experience.

4. Celebrating victories, big and small

I worked with a sales team back in the day and every time in their contact centre, when somebody made a big sale, they rung a bell, and that was absolutely vital to them creating this energy in the room. The more the bell rang, the more excited everybody got.

This and the awards ideas are all great, but it's important to do it in accordance with your team and/or organisation's values. Don't just go out there and blow tonnes of money on a crazy, boozy night. Do something special for the team. Go somewhere together and have an experience as a unit. Perhaps even give them half a morning off. Go and play a round of golf, or do something different but something that aligns with who you are as a team.

5. Inducting new members to your team

How do you invite, welcome, induct, or initiate new people into your team? This is actually really important because it tells new people about what is happening in your team, and what it means to be a part of that team.

An idea for inductions is everybody having a one-to-one session with the new member of staff and their job is to just tell a story or two about what it means to be a part of the team. It's a wonderful, simple thing, but it gets people telling the right stories across the organisation. The new people really start to get a sense of belonging very, very quickly.

6. Clothing and other symbols

In the Australian Cricket Team, which has been a successful sporting team for quite some time, at the beginning of the first session every single day if they are in the field, they wear their baggy green cap with the Australian coat of arms on the top. It's a really powerful symbol of who they are as a unit.

You could even create a team crest, get it printed onto a shirt and then wear that team shirt together, maybe every Friday. It creates that real sense of belonging, your team ‘uniform' that you can be proud of. Get a proper graphic designer to do it professionally so that you get a high-quality shirt. Make everybody feel good in what they are wearing.

I heard a story about a really diverse team that consisted of five or six different nationalities. Every single month, one of the members brought in a traditional dish from their country and they had a sit-down lunch together. And they spoke to others on the team about the history of that dish and where it came from and what it meant to be someone from their country. What an incredible way to celebrate diversity and break down the cultural barriers in the organisation or across the team!

I've seen many other rituals and traditions in the workplace and other environments, from pet days to family days, to annual celebrations and dinners that could include families, or annual trips with the team. There are just so many great ways you can do it.

Never forget that you are the owner of rituals and traditions in your team. You're the chief story-teller and it's your job to make them inclusive of everybody in the team.

Stay epic,

Next article in the High Performance Teams series:

Pillar 4/Tools: Part 16 – Scoreboards and Metrics