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Do “rituals” provide that added edge to elevate status to king of the jungle?

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

With the Lions Tour now underway and the first test upon us, you might ask yourself what the All Blacks “Haka” means. Why The British and Irish Lions all learnt a song that embodies the culture of the four nations they represent – Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England – or why the youngest player on the team carries their mascot lion, Billy. Why number 10’s have certain actions prior to kicking the ball, or the reason the All Blacks take turns to “sweep the shed” (clean the changing room) at the end of every game instead of leaving it to stadium staff. What does all this have to do with the game of rugby, let alone business?

These actions are commonly known as “rituals” and they’ve been around for as long as I’ve been watching the game or been involved in business as a strategic advisor to clients. Rituals are symbolic behaviours, involving a fixed, repeated sequence of actions, associated with superstition, players or professionals perform them during and after an event. They have no physical impact on the performance of the individual or team, but they do seem to invoke something that some would suggest provides an “edge” or a “secret source” over opponents. In a world obsessed with continuous improvement, growth and performance that small edge could be the difference between feast and famine.

So why do players and professionals do these rituals and how do they make a difference? Rituals help nudge the culture of the team, or the emotional state of the individual, toward behaviours and beliefs which enhance performance through five factors:

  • PREPARATION – Rituals enable total preparation ahead of the event supporting a clear thinking process, calming of the nerves, reducing anxiety and increasing emotional stability.

  • CONTROL – In a high-pressure situation you can only control yourself. Rituals help people control uncontrollable events, helping them get ready to perform.

  • FOCUS – About to make that kick or deliver that presentation? Rituals can help people “get in the zone” and silence the distractions and noise from the crowd allowing them to focus on delivering results.

  • HUMILITY – they can help “ground” people in who they are, maintaining perspective. Just because you’re at the top of your game does not mean you’re too important to clean the changing room.

  • CONFIDENCE – When you’re facing up against the All Blacks “Haka”, the traditional war cry of New Zealand, you can see how this ritual might get them “pumped” and ready for battle. It builds confidence through performing something familiar.

Rituals can be applied in business just as in sport and I’ve seen it. For example, bringing your special pen to a key meeting, certain breathing actions ahead of a big presentation, or putting a certain type of object on the meeting table to symbolize behaviours expected from the team. When designing business rituals for yourself or a team, there are five simple and practical steps to follow:

  1. Identify the gaps in the individual or team performance

  2. Fill the gap with a better question for your team to address

  3. Brainstorm ritual-related options with a group of people or by yourself depending on the need

  4. See if it works by incorporating it into your workday, making it an effortless habit

  5. Reflect on the ritual to see if it worked

In summary, players in rugby and executives who strive for perfection, growth and king-of-the-jungle status seek every added factor to improve. Rituals can help players, professionals and teams prepare for the big event, focus on the task at hand, control the situation, maintain perspective and build confidence. So if you’re hungry for success why not try it and potentially elevate your performance to the top of the food chain!

By Lance Mortlock, EY Canadian Strategy Leader

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

EY is an official sponsor of the British & Irish Lions only.


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