Most every busy leader longs for some magic wand that will help them simplify the monstrosity that is their life and role.
- Wouldn’t it be great if there was one simple thing any leader could do to stimulate a positive team culture, deepen the bonds between teammates, and create a “virtuous circle” of effective group behavior?
- What if that one simple thing took almost no time and cost absolutely nothing?
- Wouldn’t it be completely amazing if this one simple thing was something that everybody, everywhere, already knows how to do?
Culture: The Driving Force of Every Team
You know this from experience:
When a team’s culture lines up with its goals, great results follow naturally. Get out of step, and it’s tough going for everyone.
It’s easy, fun, and engaging to talk about culture. Doing something about it often seems a lot harder. Moreover, when we do take on culture-changing initiatives, they often tend to be big, complex, and… well, ineffective.
Sometimes, the best interventions are actually the simplest.
Rituals: A Critical Culture-Building Element
Like national or societal cultures, team and organization cultures emerge not only from shared beliefs, but also from the repeated practices or rituals that express and reinforce those beliefs.
Companies and teams often create rituals organically and unconsciously. Think of a routine performance management practice as an example.
The people, teams, and systems that create these rituals often don’t even recognize the powerful impact these have on the organization-wide culture.
These unconsciously-created rituals aren’t necessarily bad or damaging. In fact, many are excellent. The point is that they may not be created with a specific intent, and therefore their consequences are largely unintended.
The most powerfully effective leaders create rituals consciously.
A Good Example:
So, what is one amazingly simple ritual that any team can put in place and that has a specific, positive, and predictable outcome?
Start every team meeting with recognition. Just take 3 to 5 minutes at the beginning of each group session and have members of your team thank and recognize others for their shared work.
The Benefits of a Simple, Consistent Recognition Ritual
I recently worked for a large financial services company where this practice was widespread. Nearly every meeting at this company began with a few minutes during which people simply said “thank you” to a teammate (or two, three, or even more). Sometimes these thanks were given for small gestures and sometimes for heroic efforts.
People thanked and recognized each other not just for what they did, but also for how they did it.
More importantly, they did this consistently, day-in and day-out. The ritual made it real, an integral part of the way we did things.
I’ve taken this practice to a new organization and started it with a cross-functional team.
- The practice is simple
- It costs nothing
- It fosters a team culture in which people experience both being valued and valuing the effort and bearing of others
And in just a few short weeks, it’s spreading on its own.
When you first start this practice, it might feel a bit like a middle-school dance: you might have some uncomfortable silence during which people wait for someone else to go first. This is your opportunity to jump in and just thank someone. The only secret here is to be authentic and specific as Steven Demaio wrote about in this HBR blog in 2009, and then to invite others to share.
It’s a good practice to keep a running list of things to recognize people for so you won’t forget between gatherings.
On Thanks and Thanksgiving
It won’t be long before teammates jump at the chance to thank others for their efforts. Other teammates will be drawn naturally to participate – not only as “recognizers,” but also in an effort to be recognized.
This is the key to the virtuous circle.
People want to give thanks, and they also want to do the kinds of things that will gain them the authentic thanks of their teammates. Good feelings beget good actions.
Formal recognition programs are useful and important. Great leaders have always understood that while there’s an important place for formal recognition, frequent, authentic thanks are essential to effective teamwork.
Make recognition a regular part of all your meetings and you too will see the power of this simple, no-cost ritual.
What culture-building rituals are in place where you work? How are you using them? What are one or two positive rituals you’d like to see take hold in other organizations? Most important, who can you call right now to say, “thank you?”
Jonathan Magid is Training & Organizational Development at Lennox International
He helps with Change Leadership, Executive Development, and Organization Design
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