Nuanced — In The Circle Way Agreements

One of the things that I most like about teaching / offering a 4-week class on The Circle Way, Nuancing The Components Wheel, is that it’s not just offering the nuances “out there” to others. It’s also getting very moved by nuance in my understanding and practice. So glad for Amanda Fenton, co-teacher and co-host for this one. So glad for the people that show up to the class — for their practice, learning, curiosity, and playful presence.

Some of that nuancing for me this time is with The Circle Way Agreements. I’m aware that “Agreements” is a term that requires some attention and doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Is it “consensus?” Is it a “vote?” Is it “guidelines” for helpful and shared space holding? I’ve worked all of those layers before, depending on the setting. For this post, I’m not trying to sort through the process differences. I am sorting through some of the nuancing that is awakening in me from this class on offering nuances.

Ask for what you need: offer what you can. — My nuancing for this is, “Be willing to make visible what you need so that the group might adapt or adjust together, in the name of shared healthy tending. Offer what you can in support of the well-being of the group in such expressed needs.” This guideline isn’t a promise to fulfill every need. It’s not placing an order at a restaurant to be fulfilled with expediency. It’s invitation for shared tending.

Stories we share are confidential. — I’ve always felt that learning in a circle is and should be portable. Anonymized, of course. Or, carried with permission from the story teller, of course. Or universalized to principle rather than the story details. My nuancing here comes more from images. If I saw flowers growing in your garden, as much as I enjoy the flowers, I wouldn’t presume that its ok for me to dig them up and plant them in my garden. Stories, like flowers, belong in the story-garden of the person who shared them.

Listen with compassion and curiosity. — I love the invitation to be curious here. Lately, my nuancing has been to invite “curiosity” as a kind of connective tissue among us. When a compassionate curiosity is present, with others and with self, it’s like having good soil from which we can grow many good things in a shared garden. Compassion and curiosity are a kind of compost.

From time to time, we pause. — The nuancing for me is that “pause” is about welcoming silence as a participant. It’s about knowing that there will be moments of integration, when there are no words. It’s about everyone being able to request when pause is helpful. Pause is about orienting attention to the center and all that is moving in it (insights, questions, wonders, ahas, challenges). Pause is about honoring lots of kinds of knowing, and welcoming that in moments of silence.

So glad to be nuanced. It is one of the basic ways that I orient to the journey that is practicing circle, and for that matter, the journey that is life. So glad to be in nuancing with a community that wants to learn and offer such things. With agreements. And with a lot of other juicy bits.

How To Call A Circle

All of the material below is from Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture, by Christina Baldwin. It’s a great book, that really helped to bring needed attention to some of the “why” and “what” of circle. And Christina is one of my favorite humans on the planet.

All of the material below was compiled by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea into a widely-used handout that became “Circle Way Guidelines” available for free download on The Circle Way website. It’s a great resource for any of us applying the “why” and “what” of circle. Just go download it and give it a read.

There’s something about this material below, the precursor, that has such a natural ring and directness to it. These are qualities that I so appreciate in Christina and Ann. There is a way that elders offer, as only elders can, their truth-telling.

Enjoy these, in addition to the Guidelines handout.


How to Call A Circle in Community & Professional Settings
Based on the methodology presented in the book, Calling The Circle

– Circle host (often a rotating position) provides a centerpiece to hold group focus and an object to use as a talking piece that is held by whoever is speaking while the rest listen.

– Circle host welcomes everyone, reads the agreements and sets time expectations. If there’s an intention or question, state it. Host for a moment of silence to relax, reflect and become present to the process or read something inspirational.

  • Agreements establish shared accountability for the experience among all participants. Agreements create a respectful interpersonal container for conversation. Use generic agreements or generate your own by considering what would allow you to accomplish group purpose.
  • Personal story is confidential unless permission is specifically negotiated.
  • We listen to each other with open minds and speak our personal truths and convictions.
  • Each person asks for what they need and offers what they can.
  • When we need a break or refocusing we will pause and take a breath, then continue.

– Go once around the circle as a “check-in” — inviting each person to introduce themselves and speak to the theme .Keep remarks succinct to allow time for everyone to share introductions. Pass the talking piece so only one person speaks at a time and avoid feedback, response, or cross-talk. If a person is not ready to speak at first, they may pass and request the talking piece at the end of the ground.

– With the talking piece, go around the circle again, giving each person another chance to speak without interruption. This round allows time for each person to explore their thoughts, feelings, reactions in an orderly pattern of response. If someone wants to respond to someone’s comments they may do so in their own turn or when the circle is opened for conversation. 

– Set the talking-piece in the center and open conversation council. Keep the agreements in mind. Watch timeliness so there is time to close. Call for and utilize pauses so that silence can re-center the group and refresh the dialogue. (Create pauses by agreed signal: ringing bell, rattle, etc. One person may serve as guardian who notices when to call a pause, or anyone in the circle may ask for the signal.)

– To close, use talking piece round again so teach person may speak briefly about what they have received or learned from the conversation or appreciate about each other. End with silence, or any appropriate signal of completion. Process can be offeried in 30-90 minutes.

Yup, really good stuff, simplified, but without losing potency. From the first and for the future culture. Glad to have these available for my practices of hosting circle, both formally and informally. And glad to have these refreshed in me, on the eve of starting another online class, The Circle Way, co-hosting with Amanda Fenton, that begins tomorrow.



Maxims for Collective Leadership

Maxims are overarching statements of principle. Maxims are guidelines. They aren’t the operating plan with all of the needed detail. Maxims are what you return to before, during, and after a implementation to gut-check integrity of offering.

Yes, I’m a person that relies on maxims as some of the deep work in organizational change — that’s with teams, communities, systems. The maxims invite doing with purpose rather than doing just to fill time, or to appear busy, or to approximate accomplishment.

This weekend I was perusing materials on collective leadership, an initiative being offered in Scotland, that is impressive in its scale and in its simplicity. It’s an initiative that my dear friend Meg Wheatley is helping to shape (and who shared the materials with me).

I was also delighted to find “Myron Roger’s Maxims,” that are helping to guide the initiative. Glad in part because the maxims are good, and point to the deep work of change. Glad in part because Myron Rogers was one of my first mentors in this work, going back to the early to mid 1990s.

Enjoy these:

  • Real change happens in real work.
  • Those who do the work do the change.
  • People own what they create. (I’ve tended to say this over the years as “support” rather than “own.”)
  • Start anywhere, follow it everywhere.
  • Connect the system to more of itself.
  • The process you use to get to the future is the future you get.

What I appreciate most in these, and what I loved most in Myron those 25 years ago, is that he had a way with getting to the guts of things. And he had a way with simplicity in words.

I’m glad for the many ways that his words have carried into my work with systems, teams, and communities. To try to create an integrity of invitation.

Maxims. Guidelines. Gut check.