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  • Writer's pictureThomas Meloche

What Makes Good Ceremony

Noelle Belle wades through as many as two hundred emails a day, most of them not relevant to her actual work. Something as simple as an announcement is written by a co-worker, sent as an email, opened, read, and often responded to by other co-workers, even though no response was necessary. "Usually at least two co-workers type 'Thanks' or 'OK' and then hit reply all," Noelle says. "Then the original sender says 'You're Welcome' using reply all as well."

Noelle and everyone else on her team receives the original announcement, plus copies of the unnecessary response, plus copies of the unnecessary response to the unnecessary response. "I counted thirty-seven unnecessary emails around a single announcement," Noelle noted with the sound of surrender in her voice. "It used to drive me crazy; now I just accept it as our culture."

Mijin Cho found a different approach to making simple announcements in her workplace. Mijin is a manager of a software delivery team at a non-profit corporation. She doesn’t sit in a private office, but with her team of ten people in a large, open, and collaborative workspace. The team calls themselves Orion, after the constellation. Mijin has just learned a bit of important news she needs to share with everyone, so she stands up right at her desk and starts a ceremony:

"Hey Cats!" she says loudly.

"Meow Meow" everyone responds. The room is instantly quiet and attentive.

"We just got approval on our latest grant proposal," Mijin announces. "Great job getting it written everybody. We now have a sponsor for the entire new feature set; it will be a busy year."

Mijin sits down, signaling the end of the ceremony. There is a smattering of applause and within a few seconds everyone returns to work. Two individuals head over to Mijin to learn more details.

A ceremony does not have to be long or complex. The announcement ceremony is one of the shortest business ceremonies we know. It is a full ceremony completed in fifteen seconds or less during which key information is communicated to the entire team.

The announcement ceremony is good ceremony.

But what is a ceremony anyway? And what makes it good? And how is an announcement ceremony different from just randomly yelling an announcement anytime you have one?

What is Ceremony Anyway

Our books use the following definition of ceremony:

Ceremony is a structured ritual social interaction which completes an element of work, requires sacrifice, and gives participants positive emotional energy.

Each word in this definition is carefully chosen and meaningful. Even Mijin's short and simple announcement ceremony may be used to explore our definition.

Ceremony has to complete an element of work. The announcement ceremony communicates information quickly and effectively to everyone currently working in the Orion common work space. By the time the ceremony is complete, that work is done, the message is conveyed.

Ceremony is structured ritual. It follows a predefined form. The Orion announcement ceremony has the following structure.

Open: Announcer stands and calls, "Hey Cats."
Execute: Active listeners stop their work, look at announcer, and respond, "Meow Meow." They listen attentively as the announcer makes her announcement.
Close: Announcer sits back down.

The structure includes social interaction, an prescribes an active exchange between the announcer and listeners. The listeners must stop their work, respond, and listen, which requires sacrifice.

What Makes a Ceremony Good A ceremony is good if and only if....

It completes an element of work,

it is worth the sacrifice,

and it gives participants positive emotional energy. Ceremony must give positive emotional energy to everyone attending the ceremony. If and only if the ceremony gives all the participants with positive emotional energy do we consider the ceremony good. This is worth repeating, if and only if the ceremony gives all participants with positive emotional energy is the ceremony good. We can gauge this with a simple question at the end of a ceremony.

How do you feel about the work you just did?

Positive emotional energy is the key to getting people to consistently and reliably follow procedures.

It turns out that meeting unconscious human emotional needs is the ultimate win when organizing human activities.

If you meet the emotion needs of the participant then not only will they do the ceremony again, they will teach it to others, naturally.

In the announcement ceremony new participants learn their roles by imitation and repetition. They repeatedly see their co-workers stand and chant. They feel a special pride the first time they correctly stand and respond in unison with the rest of the team. Eventually they discover that anyone can shout "Hey Cats" to the entire team, anyone can take the role of announcer. It is a real rush the first time they make an announcement themselves.

Mijin replaced unnecessary emails with a new way to communicate information quickly. A way which achieves the objective, saves time, bonds her team together, and provides them with positive emotional energy.

Mijin replaced unnecessary emails with ceremony.

Are you seeking to enable people to change? Engage them in good ceremony.


Noelle Belle wades through countless emails each day knowing it is mostly a waste of time. She simple chooses to endure it. What do you simply choose to endure? What wastes your time in your organization?

List three activities you regularly participate in which feel like a waste of time. For each activity, all that matters is how it feels to you. Write down what feels wasteful even if someone else says it is not.




Here is a tip. If something feels wasteful it probably is wasteful.


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