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Mary Lynn Fayoumi

The Importance of Rituals in Building Business Relationships

By Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, President & CEO
Published September 19, 2023

This article, authored by Mary Lynn, was originally published by the Daily Herald on 9/13/23.

On this September morn after being awaked by a noisy thunderstorm, I am reflecting on the importance of rituals.

In a few hours I will be joining a beloved group of longtime industry friends at Wrigley Field to cheer on the Cubs. This outing has become one of my favorite days of the year, not because I especially love baseball, hot dogs, or beer. Instead, our annual ritual is all about nurturing valued relationships by spending quality time together cheering each other on for the recent successes we've achieved and offering support for the challenges we're currently facing.

Like most rituals, this one started as a one-off invitation from a devoted season-ticket holder and die-hard Cubs fan to enjoy a late-season game. He selected three of his association mentees who all knew each other but were not yet close friends.

From the start, our host set down strict rules. First, meet at a Clark Street pub for lunch (including tots) at noon. He expected that we don authentic Cubs gear, not just come in blue. Next, walk to the ballpark stopping to buy peanuts along the way from one specific, fun-loving street vendor. Then grab some cold ones before finding our seats.

Over the years, our host figured out that his three female guests tended to take extended bathroom (or shopping) breaks and sometimes wanted to leave just after the seventh-inning stretch to escape the heat (or cold) to get a seat at Sluggers before the crowds rolled in. He was good-spirited about it all, realizing that these quirks became part of this cherished ritual.

During and after the games, we often met up with old friends and made new ones too. Whether we were standing in a long food line, dancing to oldies, taking pics with Ronnie Woo Woo, or arguing with fans from opposing teams, the belly laughs from our hilarious experiences were plentiful. My buddies and I could regale you with stories for days from our 15-plus years of sharing this ritual.

What started as a one-time outing has become so much more. Why? Well, according to Erica Keswin, author of Rituals Roadmap, there are two benchmarks that define rituals. First, do they go beyond their practical purpose, moving from a transaction into meaning? Second, are they sorely missed when they're taken away?

Through Keswin's research, she has discovered that rituals mean so much because they support psychological safety and purpose, which leads to increased performance. Although one might argue that attending a sporting event with industry colleagues once a year could hardly be responsible for boosting workplace performance, I have ample evidence that it has.

Getting away from our usual work routines for the day to unplug and relax is good for the mind and soul. During the 6-12 hours we spend together, we benefit from the advice, counsel, insights, resources, and referrals that our friends generously offer. We all return to our respective jobs with a spring in our step and a positive attitude to face whatever issues arise more effectively.

While today is a very special day, this ritual will never be the same. You see, our beloved host and originator of this ritual passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. In his honor, and with heavy hearts, we will abide by the rules and pass them on to his son, who will be sitting in his seat. With any luck, the "W" flag will fly so it can be seen from heaven.