The Summoner

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Huddled against the cold she peers out into the night. On a far distant hill, a tiny glimmering light of a fire. She squints until she is sure she has really seen it, and then runs down the track to tell the others

He is tending his yams in the clearing when he stops to listen intently. There it is, unmistakable – the distant sound of drumming. He drops his tool and heads for his hut to get his robe.

 

They are sitting down to eat when the sound of a horse approaches. The rider pulls up to the group, dismounts, and, before even making his greetings, hands a coloured knotted rope to the elder.

 

 

 

Rituals are essential to human collaboration and our work is full of them. A ritual is an agreed activity by the community which has certain rules and structures and usually a cadence to how often it occurs. The conventional calendar is full of weekly or monthly team, project, and committee meetings. The modern equivalent is retrospectives, planning increments, guilds, meetups, and communities of interest.

 

Giving rituals a regular fixed cadence is effective in the short term to bring people together, but seems to be the kiss of death eventually, as they become monotonous and routine. As we mature, we should learn when we do and don’t need a ritual.

 

The cadence of a ritual should indicate our expectation of how often it will happen, but the execution should depend on the Summoner. There will be some kind of signal to tell everybody to come together, and a mechanism for deciding the need to issue the call.

 

If it is a daily standup in a co-located team, it could be as simple as somebody calling “standup?” at the regular time and everybody does a call-and-respond to find consensus on whether it is needed.

 

If it is a quarterly planning day in a conventional organisation, a manager will make a call to schedule it, in consultation with many stakeholders as to whether it is needed and when is the best time.

 

In an advanced culture, tribal circles that are loosely coupled might come together when summoned by one of their members, or by the currently elected chair.

 

In a digital culture, it may require a quorum of online votes, or a consensus in chat.

 

However we do it, our rituals should all require a summons, and the summons should not be a given, such as an automatically-repeating calendar entry

 

As well as agreeing to a ritual, we should also agree on the summoning call protocol; who is the Summoner; and the authority and process for triggering it.