Meetings Are Rituals
A discipline is something we purposely do, something that has a desired outcome. It requires conscious effort and, with time, accrues a benefit. The big idea associated with discipline is we postpone immediate gratification for a better tomorrow.
Rituals — especially rituals to which we’re fully devoted — are traditions. Devoted rituals are the unselfish offering of something. We offer our attention, our time, and our effort.
There’s a stark contrast between a discipline and a devoted ritual. Let’s say we love to go hiking to mountain summits or, less strenuously, along a (mostly) flat forest footpath. When we’re hiking and truly enjoying the hike, we're fully present. We notice the wind, the trees, the way wet leaves sparkle in sunlight. We're very aware of the sights and sounds around us.
For some of us, hiking is a devoted ritual. For others, it’s a discipline. When hiking is a discipline, it’s likely that we’re not fully present in the moment. Perhaps it’s because our doctor told us to walk 10,000 steps a day. So we got up, put on our shoes, drove to a forest, and went for a walk. We’re disciplined, and there’s real value in that.
Devotion to a ritual, however, is a very different thing. For those who enter the woods as a ritual, the woods are an invitation to something beyond.
There's a poem called “Lost” by David Wagoner:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to the Raven.
No two branches are the same to the Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
When we move into the woods in devotion, we're offering the woods our time and our attention. Yes, we may get the benefit of 10,000 steps from our effort, but it requires zero discipline.
We’ve heard countless times about leaders at all levels who express a strong distaste for meetings. For those who hate meetings, we’d simply say this: it’s highly likely those people don’t love working with their team members. They’re not drawn to coming together, collaborating, and leveraging the collective insights, perspectives, aptitudes, personalities, life experiences, and competencies needed to solve issues and set goals.
We subscribe to the notion that “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Those who hate meetings or grudgingly attend them want instant gratification. They’re not invested in the slow(er), smooth(er) process that effective meetings can offer. They’re not interested in the kind of outcomes that lead to a better tomorrow.
At Ninety, we attend many types of recurring meetings, and we’re pretty good at running them all. We can say this objectively because, up and down the company, we have a shared lens for how to rate them and a solid view of how those meetings help… or, far less likely, if they don’t.
We deeply believe that meetings are one of the 9 Core Competencies, one of the core disciplines associated with building a high-trust company. The kind of company that’s focused, aligned, and thriving. The kind of company where people proudly talk about the culture and where everyone is invested in the same goals and dreams. The kind of company where there’s palpable excitement for what the future holds.
What leaders need to recognize is that meetings serve a host of purposes. One of the most important (but probably least understood) is that meetings are a ritual. And rituals are an essential component of any high-trust community.
In this Noema piece, the interviewee shares:
In “The Little Prince,” the fox wants to be visited by the little prince always at the same hour, so that his visit becomes a ritual. The little prince asks the fox what a ritual is, and the fox replies: “Those also are actions too often neglected. ... They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”
Rituals can be defined as temporal technologies for housing oneself. They turn being in the world into being at home. Rituals are in time as things are in space. They stabilize life by structuring time. They give us festive spaces, so to speak, spaces we can enter in celebration.
As temporal structures, rituals arrest time. Temporal spaces we can enter in celebration do not pass away. Without such temporal structures, time becomes a torrent that tears us apart from each other and away from ourselves.
In this New Age of Work, it’s more important than ever to ensure we’re healthily connected, rowing in the same direction, and excited — collectively — for our future. If the ritual of meetings helps facilitate some of that, why would anyone hate the idea of having them?