I was introduced to circle meetings at a self-managing law firm and community organisation. This was in New Zealand in 2015. Since then I have experienced circles in many organisations and introduced them to more. If you feel frustrated by meetings in your organisation then shake them up — suggest trialling a circle.
This will sound like a bold claim, but I can honestly say that I have never experienced a bad circle. Nor received negative feedback on the process.
Here’s how to do it
- Ground rules. If time allows it, at your first circle meeting it is good practice to agree ground rules as a group. These might include: be respectful; be honest; be compassionate; empathise; encourage vulnerability; if you tend to talk a lot be mindful of this (!); no tutting or eye rolling etc; be aware of your body language; we don’t rant; remember how much time you’ve set aside. You can write these down on the wall — chalk paint is great! — adding to them and amending over time.
- Facilitator. Seek a volunteer to be a facilitator or ‘circle keeper’, whose role is to ensure the ground rules are adhered to.
- Purpose. Importantly, the purpose of the meeting is defined before you gather. This can be a discussion topic, a goal, or a specific question that needs to be answered.
- One rule. There is only really one rule: one person can speak at a time, and that is whoever is holding the ‘talking piece’. This can be anything — a stick, a pack of post-its — whatever suits or is close to hand.
- Starting. Start with the person to the right of the circle keeper by handing them the talking piece. Continue in that direction.
- Pass, pause or participate. When you have the talking piece you can pass — if you have nothing to say yet or wish to listen at first; pause — to have a think before speaking or passing; or participate — give your view on the topic.
- End. The discussion ends when the talking piece has done a full revolution with everyone passing. This means that no one has anything further to add to the discussion (or it ends when you run out of time, but you will be surprised at how often these two align).
- Listening. Circles teach active listening, and they teach this by doing.
- Vulnerability. Pretty quickly colleagues demonstrate their vulnerabilities.
- Trust. Vulnerability requires candour. People trust this.
- Improved relationships. Good relationships are built on trust, and you will soon have more of this.
- Different voices. You hear less from the usual sources and more from the quieter voices, whose great ideas and contributions will surprise you.
- No interrupting. Can you imagine?
Give them a go!
Trial a few circles with your team. Let me know how you get on. And if you’d like to Zoom before or after your circle then get in touch and I’ll share some tips.
Do try this at work.