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The Power of Rituals: Building Bridges in Remote Teams

Team rituals don't just bring people together – they improve behavior

By Gustavo Razzetti

January 12, 2024

Team rituals do much more than create a sense of belonging. They are a powerful tool to promote positive mindsets and behaviors, increasing remote collaboration.

Well-designed team rituals can foster a sense of belonging, connect people with the company culture, and bring remote teams closer together. Rituals became vital during the pandemic, forcing teams to work remotely. Companies started developing new rituals or updating existing ones to the virtual world.

I have been assisting teams in designing rituals even before the pandemic. After witnessing numerous organizations transition to remote work, my team and I have gained valuable insights into the power of rituals and how they contribute to building culture, even from a distance—one step at a time.

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz once said, "The world as lived and the world as imagined turn out to be the same world." Rituals provide teams with a safe space to play and experiment. Most importantly, they help address issues in a nonthreatening manner.

Consider the following five areas when developing hybrid or remote team rituals.

1. Get to Really Know Your Colleagues

Creating belonging and connection is critical for remote teams, especially when members join a new team without meeting people in person.

Creating a sense of belonging and connection is crucial for remote teams, particularly when team members join without having the opportunity to meet in person.

Create buddy systems

Being part of a group makes it easier to go through experiences such as onboarding and makes it easier for everyone to support each other. Miro onboards remote employees in cohorts to help build strong relationships. It makes people feel welcomed and part of the company's culture, history, and strategy.

The best and worst boss

Some people don’t want to get too personal. However, you can still get to know them more personally by discussing work. At Liberty IT, employees use a series of questions like “Who was your best colleague and why?” and “Who was your worst boss ever and why?”

Meet each other’s loved ones

We are our relationships. Rituals can facilitate connection by introducing colleagues’ loved ones: pets, babies, and anything in between.

GitLab team members host “Juice Box” chats, bringing together employees’ children, grandchildren, and other family members. At BetterCloud, employees like to show off their pets during a video call to strengthen personal relationships among team members.

2. Celebrate Your Team Culture

Team rituals are perfect for recognizing people and strengthening bonds.

Unsung hero

Have the team vote and nominate a team member who has gone the extra mile, especially those who did so without bragging about it. For example, the shy person who contributed the most or someone who went outside their comfort zone.

Graduation ceremonies

Welcoming new team members is a critical celebration for every team, primarily when people work remotely. Create a small, virtual ceremony where new hires can introduce themselves and share their ‘washing instructions’ – how they want to be treated by their colleagues. Build a Mural board where everyone’s washing instructions are available.

Send a welcome package

The fact that people work from home doesn’t mean they can’t still get some nice gifts from their new employer. Cupcakes hold significance for Dropbox; its fifth core value—delight—is represented by a picture of a smiling cupcake. Every new employee receives a wooden box with a recipe and ingredients to bake their own. Of course, they share the experience with their colleagues.

3. Promote Positive Behaviors

Team rituals can be used to acknowledge and reward employees for their work and effort. Well-designed rituals reinforce the behavior you would like to see more of.

Regain focus

At Heiligenfeld, a German company specializing in holistic health care, the “Who will ring the bell today?” ritual creates a pause when a meeting is going off track. When ground rules are not respected, the sound of the bell invites participants to reflect on their own behaviors. “Am I in service of the topic we are discussing? Am I adding value or being a distraction?” The meeting restarts with a more effective mindset.

Show appreciation

Southwest Airlines, a regional airline in the US, practices Cultural Blitzes, unexpected events in which a group of employees show their appreciation to flight crews. This ritual includes giving them snacks and good wishes for the day ahead. The key surprise includes cleaning the plane between flights, usually the responsibility of the crew members who were on the plane.

Celebrate failure

Many organizations have rituals to increase mistake tolerance and develop a learning culture. Tata Motors, the Indian automotive company, believes that mistakes are goldmines. Ratan Tata, former chair of the Tata Group, created a prize for the best-failed idea called “Dare to Try.”

At Spotify, teams have regular “Fail-fikas” (fika is the Swedish word for having a coffee and chatting together). This ritual encourages people to share their mistakes and learn from each other’s errors.

Celebrate contributions

The “Small Moments Jar” team ritual is another way to recognize everyone’s contributions. Create a virtual jar in which teammates can drop a sticky note outlining something extraordinary a colleague did. Everything counts, from helping out on a deadline to learning a new skill or organizing a virtual birthday celebration. Once a week, the jar gets “opened,” and each person shares their notes, acknowledging the person who earned the glory.

4. Increase a Sense of Belonging

Doing things together in a particular way increases belonging and trust among virtual teams. Here are some ideas:

Create a team playlist

Nothing brings us together—or sets us apart—like music. Define different themes and have each colleague recommend a song to build a playlist that not only represents personal preferences but also creates a shared identity.

Virtual teams contests

Creating friendly competitions between various teams from the same company reinforces belonging and also breaks down silos. Organize cross-company contests for “Best team photo,” “Coolest team pet,” or “Best team virtual background,” to name a few.

Hold a virtual bonfire

Hotjar holds weekly events that get employees together in an intimate and casual environment: virtual bonfires. It’s a moment to connect, discuss interesting topics, and share new ideas. Sometimes, special guests join and spark interesting conversations around the warmth of a virtual bonfire.

Grab a coffee with the CEO

Real conversations increase transparency, which in itself is associated with trust and lower turnover. GoTo’s CEO hosts weekly virtual cafés that all employees can join. They are recorded so no one misses the conversation. During these café chats, employees come up with suggestions and ideas. All the progress is documented on a website where people can see what was said and what the company is doing to provide employees with a better experience.

5. Team Rituals to Improve Virtual Collaboration

Well-designed team rituals can help improve participation, one nudge at a time.

Run a sparring session

This structured way to get feedback comes from Atlassian’s playbook. Just as martial artists or boxers don’t train alone, a sparring session with your colleagues will improve your game. Share your work in a safe setting and get quick, honest feedback from the diverse perspectives of your colleagues.

Call out interruptions

Interruptions have skyrocketed in virtual environments. This ritual invites people to cut them out. To ensure all voices are heard, create a visual ritual to call out interrupters. We use scissors in our workshops so participants can put them in front of their cameras to call out those who are “cutting off” their colleagues.

Design detention

This ritual by Alastair Simpson, design lead at Atlassian, helps remote teams overcome constant interruptions. Teams need quality time and focus to tackle wicked problems. Design detentions are partial or full days where teams work in the same virtual space without interruptions. Emails, Slack, meetings, and one-on-ones are banned.

Rituals are symbolic shared experiences that strengthen connections, communication, and a sense of belonging. Through repetition, they help reinforce desired beliefs and behaviors.

Design Your Own Rituals

To design team rituals, start by identifying the challenge you want to address. While you can try some of the rituals shared above, it is crucial to create your own, even if it means customizing existing rituals.

Start with small-scale experiments and iterate. As Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, advises, "When designing a ritual, don't overthink it; simply create the initial version and then refine it later."

Reach out if you need help designing specific team rituals. Our Fearless Culture team has been helping organizations improve how they collaborate by designing relevant team rituals.

What do you think?



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