Friday, 29 April 2011

The Importance of Rituals.

Royalist or not, you can’t deny that the marriage of William and Catherine has evoked a really strong reaction! (This will be clear to readers in the UK, - what about the rest of you?) It seems for most people, that the reaction has been hugely positive (although I accept that viewing events through the eyes of the media probably means we only see one side!) I was struck by the numbers of people who chose to spend their day off standing for hours on an unforgiving pavement in London on the promise of a fleeting glimpse of a couple of strangers pulled down a road in a horse-drawn carriage!  Why?!
Ritual and tradition  prevails in all societies throughout the world. It happens in families: in mine, we’ve just been through our annual Easter egg hunt… again!  I’m confident that my twelve and seventeen year-olds have outgrown the Easter Bunny, but it’s still an important part of family life! It happens with football fans: the chants, the songs the rivalries. It happens everywhere.

So what about the rituals and traditions that provide unity and commonality in businesses and other organisations? They are there, and they can be a powerful force for good… or for bad.
  •       The Christmas party
  •       The annual bonus
  •       The Friday after-work drink
  •       The fund-raising event 
  •        The jokes at the expense of the sales team, or HR or Finance
  •       The quarterly presentation from the boss
  •       The morning coffee break
Some of these rituals are big and inescapable; some are so much the norm, so much part of the culture that we don’t even notice we’re engaging in them! – But they are powerful!
So some questions:
What are the traditions & rituals that characterise your workplace?
Firstly, look at those that have been deliberately created. Are they creating the positive outcomes that were intended? …. Really?  Most times there is a balance – some positive outcomes, but some resentments or annoyances. What could you do to add to the positives and minimise the negatives so that an OK process becomes something fantastic?!
Secondly, what about the traditions and rituals that are just there? These are likely to provide the most accurate reflection of the culture of your organisation. Are they a force of organisational health? Are they pertinent to the current environment? Or do they reflect a situation that existed ten years ago and therefore hold you back?
Do your traditions and rituals have the same positive impact on everyone? What about the groups who feel marginalised by them like the anti-royalists who view the Royal wedding as illustrating nothing more than extravagance in inequality? What could you do to ensure inclusivity?

Rituals are often artefacts of culture so they could use some examination. Making sure that they support the aspirations of your organisation can provide a much more powerful energiser for change that twenty carefully crafted policy documents!

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