The Small Rituals of Great Teams

In our house if the coffee isn’t ready by the time my wife leaves to teach, her mojo is off for the whole morning.

I’m sure lack of caffeine is part of the problem, but it’s only half of the story. Another meaningful part of the process is the brewing of the coffee, the pouring of the coffee, stirring the half and half in her favorite mug, in just the right quantity, and sipping the coffee on the drive to school. It’s the ritual of the coffee that is equally as valuable as the taste and the caffeine.

Rituals performed in groups can be even more powerful. When we take time as a team, to savor moments or engage in rituals before events we can greatly affect the outcomes. For example, simply taking time to share a toast before a sip of wine, will make make the wine taste better to everyone.

According to researcher Kathleen Vohs, the principal reason is because the ritual forces everyone to be very present in the moment. Another form of savoring is when we close our eyes while listening to music we enjoy. By intentionally closing one type of sense, we are opening and accentuating another.

These are small examples of savoring experiences, which involve taking time to appreciate and amplify the small moments of life such that they become more powerful and meaningful. Families are the most basic and essential teams in our lives. And building positive rituals in our families can have immense impact. According to author Bruce Feiler:

“A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem.”
– Bruce Feiler

Sports teams innately understand the power of rituals. Consider the awesome and fear-inducing Haka performed by the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team before every game. This powerful expression of native dance not only reinforces their heritage and cohesiveness as a team, but also channels any pre-game anxiety into unified energy and focus. In this instance, the Haka ritual also acts as a social glue to bind the team together.

You can easily build rituals into your professional team culture as well. Here’s an simple example for your weekly or monthly team meetings. Often these meetings involve the same people. And often the more junior participants speak less while the boss speaks more, which is exactly opposite to what a healthy culture looks like. Healthy, participative teams want ideas and insight from everyone at the table.

Here’s the idea from Paulo Guenzi’s book Leading Teams. Tell everyone in advance of the meeting that if they don’t participate and share their best ideas, they could get a yellow card as a warning. If they get a red card after two warnings, they aren’t permitted to attend the meeting next week. Don’t be too worried that people will intentionally get a red card to leave the meeting. It’s not likely people will actively seek negative reinforcement to get themselves kicked out.

What’s more likely to happen is that you will begin to develop a team meeting culture in which everyone is encouraged to bring forth their best ideas. Good luck!


Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, and the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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