Why you must empower your team with a ritual

How’s the josh?

High Sir!

When we had watched the film, Uri, for a few days, every event small or big began with a war cry – how’s the josh for a drive? How’s the josh for Gulabjamun? The line had infused so much energy that josh (a Hindi word, stands for energy and enthusiasm) overflowed in the following days. Not just us as a family, even the country’s premier was heard using the line in his public address. The director of the movie, Aditya Dhar, had mentioned in an interview that he got the idea from his childhood. As a child he had come across a retired Brigadier who would keep one chocolate in his hand, would ask How’s the josh, and the boy who could shout the loudest would earn the chocolate. A string of words experienced in his childhood made way not only in a movie but in a political address to the nation. That’s how deep the impact of our experiences is. 

Huddle slogan in sports or war cry in battlefields are one ritual to get people together to chase one goal. The great Indian cricket team huddle was introduced before the 2003 World Cup and it was noticed nationwide. Sourav Ganguly, the captain of the cricket team in those years, had said in an interview: “Our theme for this World Cup is “Now or Never”. It is just to make the boys aware that every minute of the 100 overs we play is important. You cannot relax, you cannot let your concentration wander, you cannot stop focusing. So whenever we pick a wicket, we get into a huddle, into our theme, we say we have done just a little bit of the job, it is time for the next step. So get focused, put the same effort, keep the same intensity and get ready for the next wicket. It’s just to keep everybody awake and thinking, I think it has worked and the intensity on the field has improved.”

With Now or Never as their huddle cry, they not just marched, they had stormed forward. A huddle, common in team sports and a war cry are rituals that channelise the behaviour of the entire team towards one goal. 

A ritual, a sequential set of action, has impact both on an individual level and on a team level. A huddle is a common ritual seen during football, basketball, cricket and other team sports. If you have seen The Last Dance on Netflix, you would recall the huddle cry “Whats time is it? Game time!”  Not just in team sports, in individual sports too athletes are trained over years to adopt a ritual, which they practice before a tournament. In my course, SHIFT, the first habit that we talk about is the ritual and the video illustrates the peculiar ritual of Rafael Nadal. 

A ritual is designed to change behaviour and bring attention to the objective at that moment. Sports personalities follow a ritual to get into the flow, the state of mind that remains true to the goal. Similarly a huddle gets the team, in full attention, engaged and headed in the same direction. When an Olympian swimmer stands on the block and slams her thighs three times, she is following a series of rituals to get her mind in the flow. 

Rituals are not only designed in sports life. They are also used extensively to change behaviour in a measurable way in other work environments. 

A few years ago I had to spend a few days in a hospital as an attendant to a family member. Hospitals are not only tough for the patients and their families but even for the staff that works for long hours. I would sit and notice the change in shifts for staff at the nursing station. Every evening, five minutes prior to the actual change of duty hour, the new team would report in. The two teams, outgoing and incoming team would exchange notes for all the patients. Once the verbal update is over, the two captains and other support staff would come out of the nurse station, handover the file and bow to each other in a Japanese style. This was in India and you rarely get to see a bow as a matter of respect. 

This was a ritual designed to have mutual respect for each other. As the long days and chaos of hospital work wears down the staff, the outgoing team is tired and drained while doing a handover. If they display tiredness and aloofness to the cause, it will rub off on the incoming team and bog them down with the stress of the mountain of work in front of them. Bowing down as a gesture after handover made them have respect for the work completed by the outgoing team and the responsibility of the incoming team. I asked, why not a namaste. A bow, so different from the culture, made the ritual standout visibly and therefore ensured that it was followed. Their report suggested not just change in behaviour but also a drop in error rate towards patient care.

Unlike traditions, which are passed down through generations, rituals enter lives as a set of actions. In case of teams, rituals are designed to instil values, attain a goal and build culture.

1. A ritual can be for an individual or for a team. Saying a prayer before the start of a pitch is an individual ritual. Asking how is the josh before the big pitch is a team’s ritual. 

2. A ritual can be designed. One can use an artefact, words, a person to design and follow a ritual. An author, in the process of writing a book, assigned a person to call him everyday and ask him same, pre-decided questions to keep him focussed. 

3. A ritual has a time structure. It begins and ends on time. Like a huddle, it is crisp. 

4. A ritual starts with all team members in the huddle together. 

5. A team ritual, like a huddle, has two quick questions- the objective and does everyone know what is expected. 

In a work from home environment, it is a ritual for one of the corporate teams to come with a prop for the Friday evening online meeting. Each member shares the prop, which is typically about how the weekend looks like for him or her and call the meeting off with a slogan and byes. They didn’t share the slogan they use as they laughed about the reaction of other departments. Nonetheless, this ritual helps them get a closure to the otherwise continuous working week. It brings them together and makes them respect the idea of weekend. Like in Indian Army, every battalion has its own war cry, each team can have their own huddle to make it work.

Another startup team is following the ritual of all team members eating the same dish as selected by the one who closes a sales deal. Their huddle is online, with a common dish across all homes, celebrating the feel of success.  If measured, I am confident, the team’s performance would reflect growth as compared to pre-ritual. 

A ritual not only aligns one’s behaviour to the goal, but also makes the behaviour measurable. So, repeat after me: How’s the Josh?

HIGH SIR!

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