I wish I remember the Anthropology book where I got this. I should, because these days I read 50% anthropology and 50% ‘the rest’.
Anthropology tells us that rituals have zero or low efficacy. There is even an argument that the best ritual is the one with zero efficacy. (The problem with ritual efficacy) Dancing around the fire to produce rain has zero efficacy but it is a great ritual. Great rituals serve as a glue, cohesive force, binding system; and this applies to our organizations as well, not just to indigenous tribes in the South Seas or African desserts.
Obviously, for the observer, (that is, the one outside the tribe), particularly our kind of observer from Boston or Paris, that dance ‘does not make sense’.
Paradoxically, this is the most wrong expression that can be used here because, if anything, it produces a lot of sense for the dancers and the tribe. What it does not have is efficacy (OK, tell them this when it rains next week).
In our organizational life, we have plenty of rituals. Their efficacy is also zero or low. Their sense making is high. They are the company super-glue. And as such, they are hard to get rid of. In fact, you should not fight a ritual too much, unless you have a replacement.
Many off sites are rituals. They are not terribly efficacious, although there is a range. For some goals, everybody knows that there is a better way than putting everybody together in a Marriot for a day. But we do it. It’s not what it is achieved, it’s the ritual. And Marriot basements are the best anthropological fields across the world.
The declared function of a company process is to achieve X. If the process becomes a ritual, it may be that the ritual weight grows and the ritual takes over. If so, process X becomes a slave, and possibly a dysfunctional one.
Many Business Planning processes which start early in the year and suffer a series of cycles and reiterations with presentations prepared for people who have to make presentations to people, plus the associated budgeting game of guessing and bargaining, ending in a binder in December, are terrible processes in terms of efficacy, but wonderful rituals that nobody dares to change.
Homo Corporate loves Excel. They dance around the spread sheet, and, helas, you got a budget.