We see it in sport all the time, Nadal with his quirks, Ronaldo with his post match rituals and the All Blacks with the Haka. All partake in Rituals for a purpose. Rituals are repeated actions used to fulfil a purpose greater than the action itself. Rituals like the Haka trigger feelings of connection, presence and meaning. These feeling are more likely to trigger a flow state, reducing anxiety and increasing energy and focus.
While some will say that Rafa Nadal suffers from some form of OCD as he follows an intense sequence of behaviours before and during each match, Nadal claims they are rituals to improve his performance. Rituals have shown to regulate emotions and keep an individual calm, while also allowing them to act in a more focused way.
Sporting rituals may be used in this way to quieten the mind, to help reach a state of calm or flow. Other rituals are to ensure peak performance while some are part of a shared identity of a team. Whatever the purpose of the ritual their power and potential are great.
Workplace rituals can also be used for many different purposes but overall they reinforce the culture of an organisation. Rituals can be used for creating purpose and alignment, improving engagement and motivation or fostering innovation and creativity.
Whether you want to create a completely new culture or want to bring alive your existing culture, rituals can definitely help. Rituals should come from the people rather than the leaders. When created by the employees it adds a sense of ownership and connection with the why of the organisation, a bottom up approach. When culture is created from the top down it will usually be met with some type of resistance, a disconnect, even if it is not an outwardly conscious disengagement but an internal subconscious feeling that this is not part of who we are.
A great way to promote an inclusive and positive culture would be for the leadership team to set the strategy, the vision and values of the organisation and then ask the employees to create rituals that embody these values.
Workplace rituals can help build authentic connections within a team, especially when the team are the ones who create them.
Rituals for Performance
Rituals involve a symbolism and meaning greater than themselves. They are part of our social structure and date back thousands of years in Religion, our communities and social structures. People favour structured behaviour as it gives them a sense of security and control. As mentioned Rituals also help to regulate emotion helping us feel calm and safe, or they can help performance by keeping us focused and feeling more confident about the task at hand.
When Sports people perform a ritual is helps to keep their mind on the the present moment and not project into the possibilities of the near future. For the very same reason rituals can be powerful to perform in a working environment. Whenever employees are in a stressful environment, when tensions are high and pressure is on, rituals at work can have the same effect, helping distract people from forecasting disaster and reducing the stress response. When are bodies are stressed less blood flows to the prefrontal cortex the source of decision making and strategic thinking. By performing rituals to help stay in the moment and not let stress take over, your team will maintain their higher order functions and be more effective in all that they do.
Research carried out by Alison Wood Brooks and colleagues at Harvard Business School found that pre performance rituals especially in advance of a stressful task helped to reduce anxiety and improve performance.
A ritual itself is also a great mechanism for blocking out distractions and enabling the individual to decide on the routines that will help them to be more productive and focused at work.
Ciara Conlon is a High Performance Leadership Coach, Speaker and co-founder of Spirit Leadership. She is the author of three books, her most recent publication Rise Before Your Bull and other Habits of Successful People is available here
If you want to find out more about how we can help you or your team create rituals for performance, productivity, innovation or more. Get in touch via our contact page.