The author conducted an ethnographic study of an adolescent residential psychiatric unit which revealed a category of behaviour--the shift report. A questionnaire was administered to staff to reveal further meanings. Reporting was found to schematize knowledge according to common referents, promote and validate insider roles through language, offer a means of personal reintegration and catharsis, and provide a forum for the symbolic enactment of democratic values which permeated every aspect of culture on the unit. Staff members were categorically in favour of their verbal and private shift report. There was little partitioning of informal and formal aspects of report in the interest of saving time. Instead, socializing and 'catching up' were important aspects of shift report and constituted a large part of team building. The informal nature of report, particularly in the use of language allowed staff to come to terms with frustrations rather than constituting patient stereotyping. As a ritual, the shift report fostered behavioural synchrony, individual empowerment and a democratic 'all-channel network' of communication. It is hoped that this account will encourage more practising nurses and managers to view their shift report as something more than a simple 'handover'; that is, a ritual play of core values, roles and relationships.