When I was growing up, my mom used to put me on the train up to Chicago to see my grandmother. Marion Whitmore was an elegant lady and devoted grandma who lived in a thoughtfully appointed one bedroom apartment on the city side of a high rise right on Lake Shore Drive. Her building stood proudly on the edge of the fresh water ocean known as Lake Michigan. In those days you didn't need a car because you could call down to the little grocer on the first floor and have eggs, milk and bread delivered to your door.
I thought she was the coolest. Little did I know just how cool. Years later, I learned that after marrying and having two boys and a girl in the 1930s, her husband abandoned her for another woman... the night after my grandmother threw his 40th birthday bash. She was left alone to raise three small children on a secretary's salary. This was her thanks for traipsing across the country during the Depression and making temporary homes for the family in log cabins in the CCC camps, where the government gave guys out-of-work a job logging or clearing roads.
I would travel up to Chicago wearing a dress and white gloves (mom insisted) and Grandma would take me shopping at her favorite children's boutique. I remember the year she bought me the orange polka dot suit. To this day it remains my favorite outfit ever. After shopping, we would make our way to Marshall Fields to lunch in the cafe on tea sandwiches and iced tea. Dessert was pecan pie, a la mode. It was always pecan pie. We both would declare how much we loved it. I couldn't wait until the next time we could go. Two forks, two kindred souls.
The other night while traveling to a client engagement, I ordered the pecan pie a la mode from room service at the Omni Hotel in Philadelphia. The memory came flooding back again. I've always wondered why this is such a powerful anchor for me. I know it must be that sharing something small with people you care about comes to symbolize something much more, especially over time. Eventually the memory becomes a trigger that reconnects you with all those good feelings.
In a healthy work environment, shared rituals should happen, too.
Sometimes people just create them on their own, but as a leader you can also invent them. Pizza to celebrate a win; popcorn at 3 pm on Fridays, cake every time somebody on the team has a birthday. I never really worked in a place with shared rituals before I started this company, which is maybe why I really appreciate them now. It takes the stress out of the day, reconnects you to the human beings known as "co-workers" and forces everybody to talk about TOTW...(Things Other Than Work).
I won't say we are perfect at it in our office. The big joke is that we celebrate for 34 seconds and then go back to work. This year we worked on it - extending that celebration to a minute and a half. That was progress. But at least we do it.
With the New Year on the horizon, it seems like a great time to think about rituals that might build the bonds among your team. Little things can really mean a lot. In a year that seems destined to be filled with uncertainty, those anchors might just get us through it, together.
If we can't appreciate what we have, more will never be enough.
I include myself among the sinners who forget how much there is to be happy about.