Workplace Culture

Three Questions for Getting Your Rituals Right

An organization’s rituals are a reflection of its values and intentions. They help build camaraderie, they communicate our expectations about how to behave, and they give us a sense of being a part of a unique and special place. Rituals tell new employees a lot about what the organization is like and how they should behave.

We have two new employees starting at ACHIEVE this week, and I am a little worried about one of our welcoming rituals that started a number of years back when we only had eight or nine people. Typically, when a new employee starts, everyone gathers for coffee and snacks within the first few days. We sit around the edge of the room in a circle and the second newest hire introduces everyone to the new person, making sure to include some interesting, non-work-related information. This has always been a lot of fun.

The ritual created a sense of inclusion, camaraderie, and humour. But now that we are approaching 18 staff in our office, I worry that it’s starting to become more intimidating (for some), and certainly more time consuming. If our intention is to be welcoming and put people at ease, perhaps asking a very new employee to introduce everyone else to an even newer employee might not be the best option.

If your rituals don’t match your organization’s values, look for ways to bring them into alignment.

We must remember that our rituals should serve us, rather than the other way around. To that end, I believe we should be intentional about monitoring and sometimes changing our rituals.

Are your rituals serving you well?

Rituals sometimes seem sacrosanct, as though we can’t touch them because that would ruin them. However, like all aspects of organizational culture, we should expect our rituals to evolve over time. As our organizations change, and as our people change, so should our rituals. Here are some helpful questions to help you determine how well your rituals fit with your organization’s culture:

  1. What are your organization’s rituals? If you have a hard time identifying your organization’s rituals, it might be time to start some. Rituals include things like how you celebrate personal or organizational milestones, annual events like charity fundraisers, and eating together. For some great writing about starting rituals, see this Huffington Post article by Mollie West and Kate McCoubrey Judson.
  2. Does the intention of a ritual match its impact? Make sure you consider the newest and least powerful people as you answer this question, as it’s usually people in these roles that are first to feel the negative impact of poorly-thought-out rituals. If the impact is other than your intention, consider adjusting the ritual.
  3. What values do your rituals communicate? Rituals can tell you what is important, what you laugh about, or where you spend your energy in your organization. If your rituals don’t match your organization’s values, look for ways to bring them into alignment.

I still want to have a great welcoming ritual for our two new employees. I want a ritual where we have fun and build a sense of inclusion and camaraderie. So today, at our staff coffee time, we’re going to modify our approach – this time we’ll have each person introduce the person next to them, and then enjoy our snacks and beverages. We’ll see how it goes, and tweak it for next time if it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

I’m curious how your rituals are, or are not, serving you. Let me know what you find when you start looking.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Eric Stutzman

Chief Executive Officer

Eric is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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