How events, rituals, and ceremonies add value to meetings
Not another meeting! People generally don’t look forward to meetings. It’s one more task in a day filled with demands and deadlines. For Agile teams, meetings are an essential part of daily work life. Adding ritual to these meetings makes them meaningful. It gives them value. This phenomenon isn’t unique to Agile – it’s part of our daily lives. You only have to look around to see countless examples of how rituals transform events into something unique and meaningful.
Today and every day, in a variety of settings around the world, people carry out ceremonies and rituals — whether it’s being sworn into office, awarded a graduation certificate, or receiving a medal. Some are sheer spectacle, such as the Haka, the ceremonial Māori war dance carried out by the New Zealand team to challenge opponents before a game. Not only do they have a defined purpose, they’ve become a tradition. It’s expected. Should they be excluded, their absence would be noticed and missed.
As important as they’ve become, most ceremonies don’t actually change the outcome. It’s often a public declaration, such as choosing to take someone as your life partner. You could get married without the big party. The net result is the same. So why do we do it? Because there’s value in the ceremony itself. The same is true of Agile ceremonies.
The reason behind the ritual
Think about your daily or weekly rituals. The coffee you make for your partner before you leave for work. The Friday night dinner or Sunday lunch. Would you miss them if you suddenly skipped them? In all likelihood, you would. In fact, if someone (or something) was unexpectedly missing, you’d probably think that something was wrong. That’s because it’s more about the coffee or the meal. It’s about the meaning you attach to it. Beyond the social aspect, it creates connections. These rituals and ceremonies are intended to define who we are and how we do things.
The same is true of the Daily Scrum. You don’t just go to the Daily Scrum because it’s a meeting that you hold every day at 09:00. You go because you’re going to learn things. You go to the Daily Scrum because done right, it defines your team and who you are, such as a badge or a uniform. These rituals and how you do them are part of the uniform. They’re the badge of who you are and how you do things. When it comes to your team having these rituals, it’s how you do things on your team. They help to establish and define who you are as a team, as a unit, and as a company.
Having that ritual is more than just how you do a daily scrum. It’s defining how you do that ceremony. That ritual, that event, becomes a uniform, a badge of who you are. That’s what those ceremonies do. There’s room for that on a team because as a team, you need to define who you are. Why are you different? How are you differentiated? It’s about team “branding,” accountability, and bonding. It’s about bringing people together and creating a cohesive identity that belongs to you as opposed to them.
However, while ceremonies are important because they help to define who you are, they should not get in the way of the things you’re trying to accomplish. You (and me) need to get things done.
Can a standup be a sit down?
Sometimes you’ll hear the daily scrum referred to as the daily stand up. Often, people mistake that for being a literal stand up – as in, you have to stand up. This is a misunderstanding of its intention. Some people think it’s discriminatory, since not everyone is able to stand, particularly if they are confined to a wheelchair or have a temporary or permanent disability.
What people lose sight of is that maybe it’s not a literal standup but a metaphorical stand up, because it’s different from other meetings. If this is a meeting that metaphorically can be carried out standing up, it means that it’s portable. You can do it anywhere. It doesn’t have to have the trappings of a specific place or meeting room. You could do it in the hallway, cafeteria, outside or while going for a walk. It’s a stand up. It’s saying that this meeting is unlike any other.
It’s not usually about making sure people don’t settle in and get comfortable. Realistically, many office chairs aren’t built for comfort anyway!
Here’s a fun idea I’ve shared with people who believe it’s about speed, not comfort: If you really like the idea of standing up so your team doesn’t get too comfortable and you think your team is equipped to handle it, why not attempt the daily planks? Do the daily scrum in plank position, where everyone in your team has to maintain a plank. It’s one really effective way to guarantee that the meeting will be short and snappy! Seriously though, the idea is to make it stand out – and that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stand up.
It’s not all fun and games
Beyond fun rituals that make your team laugh, relieve tension, and break the ice, there’s also the opportunity for rituals that check in on your team’s wellbeing, such as measuring happiness. You can rate your team’s level of happiness daily, or at retrospectives. The method can still be fun, but it’s motivation is deeper: whether your team is feeling happy or cr*ppy is going to impact their productivity. It also shows that you’re not just interested in the work they’ve delivered, you care about whether they’re happy with their tasks, the projects, and the team they’re in. This becomes even more critical in hybrid and remote teams.
When the location is your screen
Creating opportunities for these rituals has become more challenging when you’re working remotely, but it’s not impossible. To make your daily scrum different from other meetings, you may start it off with the riddle, trivia question, or puzzle of the day. Another team may start every daily scrum with the funniest themed virtual background contest where everybody shows up with their selection and spend two minutes voting on who’s the funniest before they kick off the discussion. When these rituals are left out, it becomes just another meeting.
Giving meetings meaning
Events become important when they’re different. If coronations looked like any other ceremony, would it still be as big a deal? It simply wouldn’t get the same amount of attention or be taken as seriously. That’s why you should make your key meetings, whether it’s the daily standup, scrum or sprint planning session, different from all other meetings. Every Scrum team may hold a daily scrum, but your scrum has a distinctive format that makes it stand out.
The value of the ceremony makes it more than something tribal. It creates a sense of belonging. This is your team and this is how we do it. It sets expectations. Anybody who joins your team knows they’re going to be doing it too. It creates rituals that define who you are, not just how you do things — and that’s why it’s important.
If you want to add value to your daily Agile meetings, consider transforming them into meaningful events — something your team anticipates, commits to, and fully participates in.
What’s your ritual and how does your team respond to it? Tell us in the comments.