We the Partnership

The reward of workplace rituals

By Virginia Hill
June 21, 2021 | Updated on June 22, 2021

Before every coaching session I lead for the Partnership, I touch a picture of a baseball cap that says, “I am a great coach.” I pause before I log in to the meeting with my client and take a deep breath. Something about touching this picture, which I was gifted with in my coaching program, makes me feel grounded and confident. After reading Rituals Roadmap by Erica Keswin and interviewing her for our Partnership staff training series, I realized why workplace rituals like this make such a difference for one’s performance.

Touching a picture doesn’t have any actual effect on my coaching abilities. Or does it? Keswin discovered that seemingly simple or mundane actions can yield positive results. The key to an effective ritual is that it connects you to a sense of purpose. When touching the picture, I’m reminded of everything I’ve learned through coaching and my desire to help others. The ritual creates a mindful moment that enables me to be present for my client.

Take a moment and think about a ritual you have in your daily or weekly life. If you’re working from home during the pandemic, you may have noticed that your rituals have changed along with your routines. Perhaps you’ve implemented a ritual to draw a boundary between work and home time, which so many of us have struggled with. For example, I started turning off the light in the office and saying out loud, “Work is done.” Yes, work is still sitting there on my laptop and yes, I could continue to check email if I wanted to. But turning off the light goes beyond the practical in this case—it symbolizes the transition for my mind and body to focus on other things.

Rituals can be powerful for organizations, too, Keswin points out. She explains that workplace rituals are made up of three “P’s:” psychological safety + purpose = performance. Together, these factors create rituals that help us feel included, and make the organization a safe and unique place to work.

Drawing on one of her quintessential interview questions, I asked my Partnership colleagues, “What makes you feel most Partnershippy?” I expected the answers I received about our flagship events and programs, such as dressing up for our annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals gala and the fanfare of releasing the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings.

What surprised me was how many responses were about seemingly mundane activities at the Partnership. People cited “Bagel Mondays” and corralling into the kitchen together as you wait for a spot in the toaster to free up. They recalled brainstorming sessions with sticky notes and markers in team room 2. We learned from Keswin that you can spot an important workplace ritual by discovering that people would be upset if it disappeared. Let’s just say things wouldn’t be the same at the Partnership without our bagels.

What rituals make the difference in your organization? What actions create psychological safety and a sense of purpose with your team? If you cannot think of one, try co-creating a ritual with your colleagues. Especially with so many people working remotely, we need to be intentional about connecting with one another. It’s never too late to start.

Special thanks to Erica Keswin for her permission to blog about my reflections from reading her book and interviewing her for our Partnership internal training.


Virginia  Hill