“We are in charge of how we meet together. Chairs and tables do not have to be bolted to the floor in long rows facing a speakers platform. The voice of upper management is not the only voice with power. If our current ways of interacting, speaking, listening and decision-making are not working, we can claim another form of interaction.” ~ Christina Baldwin, Why Circle Is A Core Group Process in Participatory Leadership
In typical meetings, official leaders establish both the questions and the answers while maintaining control. Creativity is discouraged. In circle, we gain order from respectful structure rather than control. We initiate questions, suggestions, allow divergence and convergence, and watch for insights that emerge from collective synergy. We harvest our learning as a group and take shared responsibility for next directions to produce more sustainable actions.
The Circle Way is an alternative infrastructure for collaborative conversations that calls on long-held principles and practices of circle. As author Margaret Wheatley writes “In today’s world, dozens, if not hundreds, of group processes are available. In the midst of so much choice, it’s important to remember the long lineage of circle and its role in human community. Circle process is not a technique; it’s a heritage.” Circle is a foundational practice that is embedded in other group dialogue methodologies. If people can learn circle practice, it is easier to take other facilitation practices to a deeper level.
What is circle process?
The Circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversations for thousands of years. In some areas of the world this tradition remains intact, but in some societies it has been nearly forgotten. As Christina Baldwin describes, the circle has come back to take us forward.
- Circle is a shape where everyone can see and hear each other.
- Circle is a group process that supports every voice into collaborative decision-making.
- Circle is an experience of sharing story, inviting diverse thinking, and encouraging creative problem solving.
Several actions set the circle in motion. Members of a circle come together within a simple, yet powerful framework that honours the organizational culture of its membership. Each group gathers with a welcome, followed by a round of checking-in so that every voice may be heard. People articulate and respect agreements that define the role of individuals and how they will treat each other. Topic and intention guide the conversation. To elicit story and wisdom, practices of listening and speaking are observed. There is a way to pause the action and call for reflection. Decisions made, whether by consensus or hierarchical design are enhanced by hearing all points of view beforehand, and cooperation is facilitated by participation. Before people leave, there is a round of checking-out and a brief farewell.
Circle process can be used to:
- Create healthy team relationships
- Address conflict and stuck conversations
- Make difficult decisions
- Hear each person’s voice and perspective
- Generate bold and creative solutions
- Build capacity
- Move beyond a “check-in”
- Work with complexity
- Embrace diverse viewpoints
Read more about The Circle Way process in this PDF: What is Circle
For more on The Circle Way:
- PDF What is Circle
- Two-page The Circle Way Guidelines
- The Circle Way website
- The Circle Way book by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, as well as Calling the Circle
- Creating Safe-Enough Space Using The Circle Way
- Corporate Circles by Maureen Fitzgerald
- The Little Book of Circle Processes by Kay Pranis
- Standing in the Fire by Larry Dressler (not specifically about circle, but about the personal preparation and in-the-moment practices for facilitating high heat conversations)
- I co-teach various Circle Way workshops – sign-up my website to receive news, posts and more
Circle Way Videos
Here are three videos that describe the Components of the Circle Way, and they provide a helpful introduction and orientation to the Circle Way process:
- Part 1 describes Invitation, Host, Centre, Start Point, Agreements, and Check-in.
- Part 2 describes Intention, the Three Principles and Three Practices.
- Part 3 describes the Three Forms of Council, Talking Piece, Guardian, Scribe and Check-out.
There is also The Circle Way Legacy, the story of Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin’s twenty plus year pioneering journey bringing circle back into modern application.
The other videos currently available are:
- Celebration of the Circle Way, to see where the Circle Way is being used in a variety of settings in North America for diverse purposes.
- Circle at the Core of Business Practice
- Circle in Healthcare Leadership
- International Stories of The Circle Way
Christina Baldwin, from PeerSpirit, speaks about the genesis of her first impulse towards the Circle Practice.
Page contents adapted from an Art of Hosting Workbook and The Circle Way's Basic Circle Guidelines.