A ceremony is a ritualized social interaction to complete an element of work, requiring sacrifice, and rewarding the participants with positive emotional energy.
Describing a ceremony is relatively simple. We include:
- Name—what we call the ceremony
- Purpose—a clear outcome, an element of work to be accomplished
- Participants—at least two people who interact in two or more roles
- Structure—a set of ritualized formal interactions to achieve the outcome
This description captures the form but not the richness of ceremony. It does not directly communicate ceremony’s hidden abilities to dramatically improve attention and focus. For example, in the Boeing B-17 Pretakeoff Ceremony we receive the following subtle benefits:
- Focused attention through the call and response structure
- Audible feedback by saying each airplane control switch out loud
- Physical feedback by touching each control switch
- Redundancy by having a pair review each switch together
- Social pressure to continually perform the exact same ritual
- Social bonding from coordinated, synchronous activity
Once you know what to look for in terms of the benefits ceremony provides, you begin to see why ceremony can be such a powerful tool in structuring human activity. The forces which make ceremony so powerful are subtle, social, and mostly subconscious.
Ceremony does not have to be long or complex. For example, a ceremony to make announcements is one of the shortest ceremonies we know. It is a full implementation of ceremonial form delivered in fifteen seconds or less.
Jimmy Smith sits not in a private office but with his team code named Orion in a large, open, and collaborative space. He just learned a bit of good news he wants to share, so he stands:
“Hey Orion!” he announces loudly.
“Hey Jimmy!” everyone responds.
The room is instantly quiet and attentive.
“We just closed the deal with ACME Corp,” Jimmy beams. “Great job on the proposal everybody. We now have a project for our expanded space!”
Jimmy sits down, signaling the end of the ceremony.
There is a smattering of applause, along with words of celebration and smiles. Within a few seconds everyone returns to work. Two individuals from sales and operations head over to Jimmy to learn the details.
We capture a more formal description of the announcement ceremony as follows:
- Name—Announcement Ceremony
- Purpose—Communicate information quickly and effectively to everyone working in a common space.
- Participants—Announcer, Active Listeners
- Opening: Announcer stands and calls “Hey (group name).”
- Execution: Active listeners stop what they are doing, look at announcer, and respond “Hey (announcer name).” They listen attentively as the announcer makes his or her announcement.
- Closing: Announcer sits back down.
If you work in an open and collaborative space you can implement this ceremony immediately and you can begin to experience personally the power of ceremony. A ceremony does not have to be long to be effective. To truly understand and appreciate a ceremony, you have to experience it, this is an easy one to try.