Are Your Workplace Traditions Like Grandma’s Roast?

by Jennifer Miller on January 11, 2011

in Leadership, Workplace Issues

Most likely, you’ve heard some variation of the following story:

A young woman is getting ready to host her first big family gathering and wants to serve her grandmother’s “special recipe” roast.  The woman calls her mother and asks for the recipe.  The mother begins, “First you cut off both ends of the roast before placing it in the roasting pan. . .” The young woman inquires: why cut off the roast’s ends? To which the mother replies, “I’m not sure. That’s how my mother taught me.” The big day arrives and the young woman serves the roast. Her grandmother is at the gathering, so she inquires, “Grandma, what is it about cutting off the ends of the roast that makes it so tasty?” The grandmother replies, “It has nothing to do with the recipe. The reason I cut off the ends of my roast was because the roast was too big for my roasting pan.”

Workplace traditions can be like that too. As a leader, how many times have you questioned the reason for why something is done, only to hear, “we’ve always done it like that” or “that’s how I was trained to do it.”  And when it comes to a tried-and-true workplace tradition, it can be even harder for leaders to “crack the code” of just why it is, exactly, that the team is still following that tradition.

Simply put, workplace traditions influence the behaviors of its inhabitants in subtle ways. These unwritten workplace practices have the potential to be either strong drivers of a positive work environment, or toxic spoilers of employee morale. Yet many leaders are not as attuned as they should be to these powerful forces.

Traditions, as defined by are “a time-honored practice or set of such practices”. Sometimes, traditions are simply holdovers from a time when the tradition made sense, but no longer does. The tradition, no matter how beloved, may just not fit any longer with a company’s long-term goals. Leaders should seek to understand: what’s the value of this tradition to the team and to the company? Leaders must also pay attention to when a tradition somehow excludes team members from participating.

Think about the traditions your department or your company partakes in.  Which ones are helping your team flourish?  Which ones might need to be retooled?  And which ones need to be abandoned altogether?

When it comes to your team’s traditions, do you need a bigger roasting pan. . .or a new recipe altogether?

photo credit © FabioFilzi

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