Organizational Culture and Rituals

Toward the end of the spring semester we might receive more and more invitations to participate in different kinds of social events: a sittning, a graduation ceremony or a just regular get- together with corridor mates.

Why do we feel the urge to create such social happenings and why does it feel natural or in some cases unnatural to participate in them?

For some, social rituals are a “pure activity, without meaning or goal” (Staal) or “like a favoured instance of a game” (Levi-Strauss) or tools to establish a collective identity (Durkheim). For Catherine Bell
- the American religious studies scholar who revolutionized how we think about rituals – it is a “form of social activity” and “a culturally strategic way of acting in the world”. Rituals provide schemes that enable participants to reinterpret reality while suggesting an “ultimate coherence of a cosmos in which one takes a particular place”.

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But how do organizations utilize the influence of rituals among employees? Let’s look at some examples from well-known companies:

  1. When making an offer to a new employee “the employee receives a special delivery at home: a cupcake kit in a beautifully designed box“ (Dropbox)
  2. “When something goes wrong, managers are trained to ask ‘why?’ five times in order to unearth the root cause” (Toyota)
  3. “Every new hire completes an inaugural ‘running of the stairs’ in a nearby stadium as colleagues cheer them on” (Gentle Giant Moving Company).
  4. New employees “wear beanie hats in the Google logo colors with propellers on top that say Noogler.” (Google)

Although some rituals might look like a set of irrational gestures,
it has been argued that they can serve a variety of functions; providing coherence to social events, reinforcing social order, resolving conflicts, transmitting values, beliefs and knowledge, creating a shared identity, attracting members’ external networks, signalling commitment, reducing anxiety, reinforcing specific behaviours, and potentially increasing performance in the workplace.

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