Decision Making in Circle

I rely on circle for so much of what I do with groups and teams. For connection. For learning. For animating wisdom and soulfulness together. A well-held circle creates a field in which people tend to relish added intelligence and heartfulness together. As a friend and mentor Meg Wheatley taught years ago, “who we are together is different and more that who we are alone.”

A doubt that sometimes shows up with circle — after all of the good connecting, learning, animating, and field-building — is about whether circle can help to get the day-to-day work done. Decision making is part of that.

I’m glad to be among practitioners nuancing collective decision-making. So as to carry forward kindness and respect. So as to remained turned to one another rather than the myriad of habits that turn us away from each other when it’s time to get more traditional governance and project management things done.

An example. For many years I was on the board for The Circle Way. We were a group of 6-12 during that time. As a non-profit, we had responsibilities that included financial, legal, and operational. These to go on top of our aspirational and inspirational efforts. Great people. We used Robert’s Rules. In the best of ways. But only after using circle for our decisions. It often looked like this:

  • a proposal spoken to the center,
  • followed by reflections and questions in circle passing a talking / listening piece,
  • followed by a showing of thumbs (in support, or rejection with requirement for suggested improvements to the proposal, or further clarifications and nuancing needed).
  • Depending on the thumbs, we either then shifted to formal Robert’s Rule vote, really a formality of affirmation. Or, back to improved proposal and passing a piece in circle.

Decision making in a group is relational, not just operational. It requires some commitment to kairos time and to chronos time.

Samantha Slade has recently offered an article in Medium that describes the basic process. I appreciate her clarity of description and her graphics that add artfulness to this process. It’s a good read, here.

Amanda Fenton is the person I know more closely that has offered skilled articulation and description of this decision-making process (we were on The Circle Way Board together for many years in practice). Some of that is included in this image (from a set of further circle essences and applied practices in this set of cards)

So, a nod to any of us changing the ways that we change with groups and communities. Reclaiming relational. In aspiration and in operation. Glad for the experience that any of us contribute to this grand journey of going together.

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