The baseball player draws a Hebrew word in the dirt with the tip of his bat during every trip to the plate, and he’s not even Jewish. NBA players give each other high five, pat on the backside or some low-key fist bump after free-throws. In our culture we often associate ritual with sports — a little backside pat before every meeting doesn’t work in the boardroom.
But it turns out that rituals aren’t all ghosts and mirrors. Research shows that we really do respond differently to the world around us when there’s a repeated action involved. If you say grace before a meal, you’re more likely to enjoy your food.
Rituals can also calm anxieties. Maybe we don’t actually have more control over a situation after performing a ritual, but we feel like we do — and that’s what matters. A ritual that calms performance jitters or helps us move on from a loss, can positively impact our performance. If blasting classic rock and singing at the top of your lungs in your car gets you major presentation ready (as it does for me) — then that’s a ritual that worked.
Business teams, sports teams — maybe there’s something management can learn from their athletic counterparts. Here are four sports rituals to consider:
- Slaughter Rules: In baseball, it’s considered rude to steal bases if your team is winning by a huge margin. My father would say, “It’s just never done!” What’s the point of pressing an advantage when you’ve already won? It’s not worth the effort to risk a bad slide, an injury and a negative statistic when the game is already decided. Let good sportsmanship carry the day. In business, if the deal is done, let it alone. If you’re a person known for honest deals who works well with others, that pays off when you’re playing the long game of a career.
- Locker Room Speeches: In football, broadcasting the coach’s motivational speeches has become almost rote, but done well, they can really inspire. Take Coach Gaines’ speeches from Friday Night Lights, about a Texas high school football team: “Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could’ve done. … If you can do that gentleman — you’re perfect!” Not that you should want your professional space to mirror a hormonal high school locker room, but there are parallels. Campaign organizers use coach-like speeches to motivate their staff. Any great company leader inspires employees with the big picture mission. Who wouldn’t benefit from some of that energy?
- Pranks and Jokes: The Baltimore Orioles baseball team has become notorious for pie-in-the-face gags. Pranks, or any funny, goofy ritual, can become a ritual that encourages teamwork, bringing everyone together with levity and setting the whole team at ease. At one company where I worked, people complained meetings were too long and unfocused. We started this ritual of starting every meeting saying, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to discuss.” It started out tongue-in-cheek, but it really helped lighten the mood and force people to really consider our purpose.
- Big Cheers: I used to play volleyball, and between every play, the six of us came together mid-court to clap hands. You don’t even realize you’re doing it, but giving encouragement and support to your team is just part of the rhythm of play. Yum! Brands is one of the biggest companies on the planet, with Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut around the globe. They’re also known for the Yum! cheer, spelling out each letter of the word to kick off meetings. The CEO led a Yum! cheer for more than 13,000 people at a conference last year. Spelling out “SAP Software Solutions” might get awkward. But for a smaller office, a quick “go team!” hand pile might feel appropriate, or a round of applause, even a trophy for the biggest failure that honors thinking big, even if the idea didn’t land well. There’s pride in swinging for the fences.
Tomorrow, start paying attention to how you dress on a big day, or how you take your coffee. Embrace the rhythm. You have rituals, and they can make all the difference. So why not for your team and your company?
What rituals work for you and your office?
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