John Buchanan was coach of the Australian Cricket team during one of its most successful periods. In his book, 'If Better is Possible', he describes the ritual of presenting a new test player with their 'baggy green' cap as a 'sacred act': 'The cap is always given to a new player by a former player in a small team ceremony at the warm-up huddle on the day of the new player's debut. While every presentation is significant, the older the player who presents the cap, the greater the link to the legions of players who have gone before.'
As John explains, 'The baggy green cap is the ultimate symbol of the Australian cricket team. It is to cricket what the slouch hat is to the fighting spirit of Australian troops. It embodies all the heroes, epic battles, awards and the individual and team records, but more than that, it captures an inner spirit which sees Australian teams play with aggression, skill, innovation, dominance and never-say-die attitude. It is what backyard and schoolyard dreams are forged upon.'
Rituals exist in every human society. Whether in religion, the military, sport, universities, or in a simple handshake, rituals are all around us. They can reduce our anxiety, improve our performance and help us to feel we belong. Rituals build consistency and stability and help us to feel safe. This safety of belonging settles our 'fight or flight' response and empowers us to perform at our best.
Part of the reason why the baggy green is so special is that each player only gets one. They are individually numbered and a player wears the same cap throughout their career. That's why when Shane Warne recently chose to auction his baggy green, to raise funds for bush fire relief, it was a big deal. The cap fetched over one million dollars, an indicator of the cultural importance of the baggy green, well beyond the dressing room walls.
Last week I wrote about routines. These free up our working memory, by automating a process so we don't have to think about it. Instead, it's done almost unconsciously. By contrast, a ritual demands our attention. It is heavy with meaning and symbolism. It focuses our consciousness and consumes our working memory, leaving no space for concern with the trivial. Both routines and rituals are important to developing the consistency needed for successful innovation.
What rituals do you have in your team? What do you do to help people feel that they belong?