I arrived back in the US late last night and today is Thanksgiving. Both my fridge and my social calendars are empty so I am planning to catch up on the work that I have let slip while I've been working in Europe.
Being British, Thanksgiving does not feature in the landscape of observances in the UK (except, I guess amongst US expats) so I'm in the position of being able to be an anthropologist watching what Schein in his book on Organizational Culture and Leadership describes as "Observed behavioral regularities when people interact: the language they use, the customs and traditions that evolve, and the rituals they employ in a wide variety of situations". To me Thanksgiving falls directly into that category which led me to thinking about organizational rituals and wondering whether they merited a special mention in my still being written book on organizational culture.
Looking back over my working life one of the company rituals I remember most clearly is when I worked for Prudential – the UK insurance company At that time its head office was in Holborn (and maybe still is – no it's not, I just checked). Once a year all employees in Head Office trooped out into the quadrangle and sang a founder's song. I have no recollection of the words or how this ritual initiated but I've just emailed the company's archives to see if I can get more information.
A second one was the subsidized breakfast that all Marks and Spencer Head Office employees in Baker Street enjoyed. This seemed to me a monumental waste of money – every morning between 8:45 and 9:30 ish the 3000+ staff in Head Office could go to the restaurant and have a full English breakfast subsidized by the company. Not only was it time off the job it was also a rift creator between HO staff and store staff (who did not enjoy that perk). However, my efforts to stop that daily ritual fell into the same level of effort that would be required to get Thanksgiving stopped in America.
Racking my brains about other organizations I've worked in (Xerox, Price Waterhouse, British Airways) I can't immediately think of rituals that stick out in the same way as the two I've mentioned, although the annual carol service in Southwark Cathedral that Price Waterhouse held probably qualifies – does it still happen, I wonder? I can think of endless routines e.g. weekly leadership team meetings, but I think routines are different from rituals – I'll check the definitions!
Meanwhile I'll consider whether I need to do more research on the topic for the book or just go out and find a restaurant offering a Thanksgiving lunch for bemused English people.
(A useful academic article on the topic of organizational rituals is Rituals Revisited: A New Look at Organizational Rituals)