In our increasingly secular world, religious participation is on the decline overall. However, at the same time in the United States, there are many religious institutions that are in fact thriving and growing. What do these organizations do to create a cohesive community of thousands and excite their congregations in these times of religious decay? I was pondering this at a recent conference on organizational culture, where I began listing some traditions churches and other religious communities use to draw people together and create positive organizational cultures. I thought of practices like community worship, commitment to high ideals, prayer, small group meetings, potluck dinners, receiving an offering and community service or mission work. While not all religious practices are best
applied to a diverse and inclusive workplace, there are many ideas that a company can re-purpose from religious organizations to create a better team culture. Let’s examine them separately:
1. Purpose higher than oneself
Religious institutions are dedicated to the idea of serving a deity or purpose that is larger than the individual. This ideal promises a better life, both now and in the future. All humans wish to belong to some entity that has a higher purpose to ennoble the work that we do together. Although it is not a perfect comparison, it is vitally important for non-religious organizations to identify the unique contribution they make to improving our world. Without it, people lose sight of the big picture. No one wants to come to work to make money for the shareholders.
Take-aways: If you haven’t already done so, schedule an offsite or large group meeting to
create an inspiring purpose statement for your group. If you need help leading this process, Brio Leadership is highly skilled in planning and facilitating purpose creation workshops to design purpose statements that capture the essence of your organization’s soul.
2. Shared Organizational Beliefs
It is not enough to identify only the core values of the organization. What is needed is for each new team member to discover their own core values and map them to the values of the organization. Brio Leadership’s white paper on core values includes an exercise to map personal to organizational values. Every manager should talk to their team members about how the workplace culture is helping them uphold their personal values.
Take-aways: if you haven’t already, identify your organization’s values and ask each manager to meet with their team members to map personal values to the company values. Brio Leadership offers a white paper to help identity your team members’ values and identify the core values of the collective.
Human beings are pack animals and need to feel belongingness in a larger group. This, along with reminders of shared beliefs and higher purpose, are the reasons for weekly services at a place of worship. This concept can be repurposed for the workplace by establishing a cadence of regular meetings at the team, department and all-company levels. Meeting rituals can be established, such as check-ins and check-outs for smaller meetings or serving food for any size.
I had the privilege of working with Scott Stegner, a Senior Vice President at Schneider Electric, who held quarterly “cookie chats” or updates on the state of the business with his employees, who were scattered around the world. He insisted that a coordinator in each office serve cookies to his employees during the webinar in which he would review progress towards goals, outstanding issues and provide public recognition of team members achievements. This ritual was highly effective in drawing the worldwide team together and reminding people of their shared aspirations and achievements.
Take-aways: Establish a schedule of regularly-held meetings that include some ritualized,
always-repeated elements such as check-ins/check-outs or served food.
Religious organizations “pass the plate” at each worship service to support the work of the
church. A secular organization does not ask employees to fund the company but a growing number of companies seek offerings from their employees to finance hardship funds for other employees. Funds are managed by a committee of employees who review and make grants to team members in times of need. I told a story of Stericycle’s generosity to their Houston-area team members in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in my last blog article. Like Stericycle, a company may match employee donations to the fund. Team members never forgot when their company and co-workers reach out with compassion and aid when a tragedy strikes. Those workers are more loyal and tend to expend more discretionary effort on the job than otherwise.
Take-aways: Create an employee hardship fund that is jointly financed by employee donations that are matched by the company. Appoint a cross-functional team to award grants to employees in need. Be generous in assisting employees struck by hardship, and your kindness will be returned in the form of increased discretionary effort by all employees.
5. Social Justice/community service
Religious congregations often live their values by serving those in need outside of their
community and may offer several ways for congregants to volunteer. Likewise, many
companies today are offering ways for employees to donate time to non-profits that are making a difference in their communities. Brio Leadership, my company, is a member of and participates in CFT4Business’ annual Freedom Day of community service. Each September 11, we celebrate the first responders and those that died in the attacks on NYC and the Pentagon by donating a day of service to non-profits in the Dallas area. This year, we are working for Helping Us Help Herself, a non-profit that helps teenage girls recognize and value their self-worth.
Take-aways: Set up a VTO (volunteering time off) policy for your company. Allow each team member eight hours per quarter to volunteer for the charity of their choice or invite your entire team to join you in a day of community service.
6. Small/affinity/support group meetings
Most religious organizations recognize the need to create belongingness within the larger
community by offering small group programs. Often, religious small groups are based on affinity (like a shared hobby), geography or support needs (like an AA group). Why can’t a company do the same? After all, the Gallup Q12 engagement survey asks, “Do you have a best friend at work?”, indicating the importance of social support at work.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about Veterans United, a company that sponsors over 60 small groups and allows them to meet on company time. In fact, the CEO has declared that he would like every employee to join a small group.
Take-aways: Publicly encourage small groups to organically spring up and meet monthly during the work day. Affinity groups could form around shared interests such as knitting, skydiving, running, learning a new language, etc. Support groups might spring up around subjects such as new parents, single dads/moms, caretakers of older parents. Publish a list of groups available and how to join them.
7. Potluck and communal meals
In researching my recent master’s thesis, I was intrigued by studies of the effect that sharing a meal has on a team. Commensality is the academic term for eating together around a table with a group of people. It also has been shown to break down barriers and bond people together. In addition, food served by a company becomes a symbol of the nurturance and care of team members by management, and, once eaten, is embodied in that person. What a great way to knit together a team!
Take-aways: Create rituals around shared meals, such as monthly potlucks or quarterly cookie chats. Serve some food that is provided by the company to symbolize caring toward team members. Consider a potluck to highlight the culinary traditions of each participant’s heritage.
Churches and religious communities have many practices that build unity and create a cohesive organizational culture. Leaders can consider re-purposing many of these practices to build their own vibrant company cultures!
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