Monday, December 02, 2013

Culture Without Ritual, Isn’t

I used to be a board member of a small mastermind group of artists, freelancers, performers and entrepreneurs.

Once a quarter, we gathered for a weekend retreat. The agenda was to give updates, share news, disclose struggles, offer feedback, solve problems and of course, make tons of inappropriate jokes.

And I was always blown away at the quality of people’s insights. During our meetings, tears were shed, gasps were made, epiphanies were realized and sighs of relief were exhaled. Each time, we quickly remembered that the roller coaster isn’t as scary when you have other people to scream with.

The only problem was, we had no record or reinforcement around people’s insight.

And that wasn’t okay with me.

We were trying to build a culture. A community worth belonging to. An atmosphere worth talking about. And an environment worth passing on. And we needed a communication ritual to glue it all together.

So I had an idea.

During our final dinners, I would ask each person to go around the table and share two things. First, one action item they planned to execute as soon as they got back to work. And second, one joke that made them laugh the hardest during the meeting.

As the resident scribe, I volunteered to document people’s individual contributions during the discussion. And the next morning, I promised to send out the recap as the artifact from our retreat. I believed everyone in the group deserved a front row seat to their own brilliance. Not to mention, a ticket stub to remember the show.

Five years later, people still talk about those dinners. Nobody remembers what we ate, but that’s not the point. Culture isn’t about the food on the table, it’s about the people around it.

And that’s the power of ritual.

It’s a conscious practice and a ceremonial acknowledgement. It’s an intentional experience we layer on top of the activity to make it more purposeful. It’s how we make meaning, affirm belonging and turn disconnected events into an ongoing story.

And whether it’s our peer group, work team, sports squad, extended family or neighborhood community, any time we tap into our natural human instinct to build communication systems, we come alive.

What communication rituals have you created?