Could religious rituals teach your team to in sync?



Team rituals are nothing new. The “unity break” that sports teams use, for example, has team members stick together while rocking and singing in response to questions posed by their leader. As Northeastern University psychology professor David DeSteno notes in his book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, these types of synchronization actions appear in many religions – from the chanting of Buddhists and Hindus, to the kneeling of Christians and Muslims, to the rocking of Jews during prayer. The benefits are to unite and connect. So why don’t we have more of these practices in our offices as we try to build high performing teams?

Synchronization improves teamwork

In a recent Wired article, adapted from his book, Dr. DeSteno describes an experiment where strangers were paired up on a table wearing headphones and asked to press a sensor each time they heard a dial tone. When the tone was given to the pair at the same time (so that they tapped the sensor at the same time), they developed a degree of synchrony, the connection between individuals that is rooted in simultaneous actions (such as marching together in step ). The control pair received tones at different times, so they did not synchronize with their partners. Those who developed synchrony reported “feeling more connection and compassion for their partner.” This is an important part of relationship building.

In a second experiment, when a partner was asked to take on a more difficult task, half of the individuals who developed synchrony with their partner in the first experiment took it upon themselves to help. By comparison, only 18% of those who didn’t sync with their partners stepped in to help. Isn’t that the kind of teamwork we all try to encourage?

Mindfulness is also for teams

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, rooted in the Indian Buddhist tradition, have been taught at leading companies from Google to Ford to my former employer, Fidelity Investments, for years. Mindfulness can help individuals learn how to better focus on tasks in an effort to achieve a state of “flow.” But the benefits of mindfulness go beyond the office. Studies have shown that mindfulness improves social relationships, reduces stress and facilitates greater resilience – benefits that many have sought throughout the pandemic.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), researchers Lingtao Yu and Mary Zellmer-Bruhn report that team mindfulness reduces the negative effects of conflict, by focusing disagreements on tasks rather than the relationship. In their 2018 article, Yu and Zellmer-Bruhn define team mindfulness as “a shared belief among team members that team interactions are characterized by awareness and attention to present events and by the experiential and non-judgmental processing of experiences within the team”.

In HBR, the authors state that “the single most important thing organizations can do to increase team mindfulness is to encourage present-focused attention, non-judgmental processing, and respectful communication, as well as ‘an openness to collecting and understanding information before processing it’. It’s a lot like relaxing, thinking, and empathizing before you act; advice that many people – and especially leaders – could benefit from.

Bring it to your team

While you may not be religious (and I’m not advocating talking about religion at work), these studies clearly show that unifying practices ranging from swinging huddles to mindfulness meditation can help facilitate a sense of belonging that many teams could benefit from these days. It could even be a team chant at the end of a team huddle. A team I used to coach had a motto: “one team, one dream”, and it never hurts to remember that.

What rituals could you add to help your team connect better?

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