Work is not usually the place for playing games, having fun or sharing adventures—but maybe it should be.
Many of the best, most successful, creative teams on the planet point to fun “rituals” or shared traditions as one of the most important factors in their happiness and success as a team. These shared rituals aren’t any kind of standard “work” activity that already exists, like team meetings, peer feedback, or daily standups: they’re a deviation from the “normal.”
A successful ritual needs to be something out of the ordinary, something that lifts people out of the day to day aspects of their job and puts them in a different mindset.
At face value, many of the activities described below appear to add nothing to a team’s ability to do awesome creative work. Looking closer, however, you immediately see that these small acts help foster the shared culture, sense of connection, and trust with creative partners that’s needed to produce high-quality work.
The team that’s best-equipped to tackle creative challenge is the one built from individuals who are comfortable being their true selves at work, able to safely let down their barriers, and less afraid of potential failure. Without expending energy on those fears and discomforts, they are more open to innovative thinking.
Developing creative rituals
Building traditions and rituals doesn’t come with a step-by-step guide, and they don’t need one either. Yours can be something simple and small, like a shared weekly trip to a local coffee shop for the team, or it can be a bigger event, like the Cromatics yearly camping trip.
The key though is that they are authentic, real and organic opportunities to bond with design coworkers. The specific actions of the ritual itself aren’t really all that important: what is is the way these activities bring the team together.
The best rituals bring out the team’s sense of fun or the “power of play—an opportunity to take some of the seriousness out of work, and instead focus on coming together because you want to. Getting to know teammates as people is where rituals harness their power to unlock creative power.
It’s also worth acknowledging the need for any rituals or traditions need to be inclusive of all teammates. A “tradition” of going golfing or to happy hour with just a select few members of the team can have the opposite of the intended effect if it excludes members of the team, or worse, if it’s divisive or doesn’t respect people’s boundaries.
A design team working well together is infinitely more creative than the sum of its parts, so why not bring your team together by creating something fun to call your own?
For some inspiration, here are some examples of what other designs teams do:
Stickyeyes: Nerf gun gong shoot
At Stickyeyes, the creative digital agency I work at, we always mark the successful completion of a design project with the shooting of a gong with a Nerf gun, the honor of shooting the gong going to the MVP on that project.
We found a common problem within design teams is the temptation to jump straight into the next project as soon as one ends. We wanted to create a culture that encouraged designers to take time, reflect, and enjoy the successful end of a project.
The Nerf gun gong shoot was just something fun dreamed up by one of the team members where the team picks who had the most impact on the project and challenges them with hitting the gong from a distance with a Nerf gun. It serves no real purpose but it’s become part of the team’s culture: it’s a much-needed opportunity to laugh and recharge, even if only for a moment.
2. Huge Brooklyn: The five-year axe club
Huge, a full-service digital agency headquartered in Brooklyn, have a wonderfully odd tradition to mark five-year anniversaries. Anyone lucky enough to work at Huge for 5 years gets to join the ‘Axe Club’ and receives their very own custom axe!
How did this come to be?
“The original creative director of Huge, David Skokna, was friends with Best Made, who make axes. He bought one of their axes and had it over his desk in his office. It was a metaphor for his (and Huge’s) approach to work. He would review work and ask the team “Do you love it?” … If the answer was ever not a resounding “yes”, then we’d take a metaphorical axe to it, and start again, regardless of where we were on a project.
A bit later down the line, we decided this would make the perfect anniversary gift for employees and began the tradition of creating custom Huge designed axes and gifting them when someone hit their five-year mark at the agency. ” – Michaela Douglas, Senior Communications Associate, Huge)
3. Cromatics: Annual biwak camping trip
Cromatics, a creative agency based in Dresden and Berlin, have an annual ‘Biwak’ camping trip, the last one (a hiking trip to Switzerland) brought the whole company together for a number of amazingly varied traditions and rituals over three days covering everything from group cooking to pro-bono ideation for non-profits.
How did it go?
“This winter we decided to take the train to the close-by Saxon Switzerland which is a great place to hike. We took the ferry over the river Elbe to the organic hideaway Schmilka, where we rented a rustical alpinist cottage with a stove and a kitchen. When we arrived—we quickly got domestic—everyone jumped in their comfy clothes and we heated up the stove. Next up was a short presentation and working on internal tasks. After a coffee break, we sat together for an ideation session about an election campaign with the non-profit “Alliance against Racism” as the originator. Afterward, our art director showed us the documentary about Dieter Rams, and right after we started cooking together a yummy Chili Sin Carne and discussed the movie.” – Andreas Schanzenbach, Chief Innovation Officer, Cromatics
4. R/GA San Francisco: 5×5 storytelling night
The San Francisco brand of full-service digital agency R/GA has a fantastic shared tradition called “5×5 storytelling night.” On the fifth day of each month, at 5 pm, five folks get up in front of the rest of the team and share a turning point in their lives for five minutes. The talks are rarely anything to do with work, but still serve to bring the team closer together.
“These nights accelerate the notion of ‘bringing your authentic self’ to the office, and move us from being a group of people to becoming members of a team. Of course, this has nothing to do with design. But everything to do with culture. 😉” – Noel Franus, Executive Creative Director, R/GA San Francisco
5. Huge London: The ideal. The real.
When new people join Huge London, the UK office of international full-service digital agency Huge, there is a wonderful tradition that helps the wider team get to know them in a fun and silly way.
New hires are invited to share one of their social media posts and tell the ‘ideal’ scenario they were trying to portray, before revealing the ‘real’ and telling us what their life (or that moment) was really like.
“It is a simple way for people to show us different perceptions that they have of themselves, that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously and that we all have lives outside of work.” – Kieron Leppard, VP Experience Design, Huge London)
6. McCann: The cheesy music playlist
The folks over at marketing communications agency powerhouse McCann Manchester have a great way of bringing the team together over a mutual love of cheesy music. Teammates crank up a shared office Spotify playlist at key moments in a project (sign off, go-live, etc), creating a powerful shared experience powered by guilty pleasure music.
“It’s a (usually hilarious) way to bring everyone together to celebrate a milestone and provide shared experience to talk about. Plus who doesn’t like the classic ‘Eye of The Tiger’ as a cheesy go-live track!” – Adam Prendergast, Technical Director, McCann Manchester
These shared rituals are silly. But that’s the point: sometimes some fun is what’s needed to help unlock new creative pathways. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a gong to shoot.