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Do try this at work #1: Circle Meetings

13th May 2022

Introducing the ‘Do try this at work’ series

A lot of people ask me where to start with their #newwaysofworking journey. The answer is often frustrating to hear – there is no ‘one right way’ – sorry! It is something that teams need to figure out for themselves and build on through constant experimentation, doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. You are closest to the information, so I cannot tell you where is best to begin, nor can anyone else.

What I can share with you are the patterns found in progressive organisations, and this is what I’ll do with my new series: Do try this at work. I’ll be sharing just one at a time, with the hope that you give it a go in your team before the next newsletter arrives in your inbox. First up we have the wonderful circle meetings which are a definite favourite of mine (and the perfect training wheels for consent decision-making!).

Circle Meetings

Imagine a meeting with no interruptions and no one voice dominating… 😍 Well, you don’t have to imagine…

There is a pretty broad consensus that most meetings are a drag at best and a waste of time at worst – it needn’t be this way! Circle meetings offer us an alternative and are super simple. They teach us to become better listeners and to be more vulnerable. Vulnerability requires candour, and people trust this. Good relationships are built on trust, and circle meetings help us to build this. You’ll hear less from the usual suspects and more from the quieter voices, whose fab ideas and contributions will surprise you.

Given that most of us are fed up with meetings, most groups are open to trying a new meeting structure when it’s suggested. So pop a brave pill (I know this is scary stuff!) and try a few circles meetings where you work. I bet you’ll be surprised by how powerful such a simple structure is.

The more you talking you do in meetings, the more you need to try these!

Below, you’ll find step by step instructions on how to hold a circle meeting and underneath those, you’ll find an awesome how-to video demo created by my friend Tim Shand.

Steps

  1. Purpose. Define the purpose of the meeting before you gather. This can be a discussion topic, a goal, or a specific question that needs to be answered.
  2. Ground rules. If time allows it at your first circle meeting it is good to agree ground rules as a group. If time is short you can use: 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 use these to start and build on them over time if needed.
  3. Facilitator. Seek a volunteer to be a ‘facilitator’ whose role is to ensure the ground rules and steps are followed. It’s easy to forget them first time around.
  4. One rule. There is only really one rule: one person can speak at a time. If you’re online then you should be on mute when you’re not speaking.
  5. Starting. Begin in alphabetical order by name if meeting online, and clockwise around the circle if you’re together. When you’re finished speaking or choose to pass, ask the next person: ‘What do you think?’.
  6. ‘Pass’, ‘pause’ or ‘participate’. When it’s your turn 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 by giving your view on the topic, being mindful not to hold court!
  7. End. The discussion ends when the whole group passes. This means 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.

I’d love to hear what you notice after trying these in your team. And don’t forget to ask your team what they noticed after using the circle meeting structure. If their feedback is positive – and I’m sure it will be – then do more!

Good luck! And head here to signup for receiving these by email: https://newwaysofworking.substack.com/

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About Mark Eddleston

New ways of working consultant, coach, facilitator and founder of Reinventing Work.

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