Circle Work

My family will attest to the fact that I am not a huge fan of housework. The washing and the hanging and folding and ironing and vacuuming and dusting and bathroom cleaning and mopping and….you get it, those tasks that just have to be done to keep the household ticking over in a relatively healthy way. One way I get my attitude sorted towards these necessary tasks is by calling them ‘circle work’.

I understand the power, indeed sacredness of circles and by calling my housework ‘circle work’ I therefore feel I am contributing to a bigger whole with my part of the work. Weird as it may sound, there is a peace to be found as you hang clothes and iron lovely smooth patches in cloth. We know that circles have no start and end and the household tasks similarly keep being generated with the ‘circle work’ perspective enabling me to find celebration in the process.

Collaborative processes work really effectively when ‘circle work’ of a different kind is embraced. This is the practice of gathering to collaborate in physical circles. Ditch those rows and rows of chairs passively facing the front of the room and turn the chairs into circles. Where possible, also ditch the big table that is often found in the middle of a circle of chairs and let the space in the circle be filled with possibility and common ground. Using a circle enables the basic act of turning to one another and provides a space for collective intelligence to be built.

Humans have used circles as a shape for gatherings for hundreds of thousands of years yet we seem to have slipped into a non-circular format for our meetings that interrupts how we listen, speak and understand the complexity facing us all. When we gather in a circle we are encouraged to listen deeply, to speak with intention and to notice the whole situation being discussed.

Of course ‘circle work’ involves more than the simple physical act of sitting in a circle. If you bring in linear meeting behaviours like one person setting and running the agenda and many passive participants, then the circle structure is being under-utilised.

Some principles to aim for with your circle work include

Gathering in a circle is not a one-time fix for whatever challenge that inspired you to gather in the first place. It is an ongoing practice, much like my housework. Continuing to gather in circles as you collaborate does inspire action that in turn enables lasting change to occur.

So next time you meet with others to collaborate on a challenge, check how you can get yourselves into a circle and do some ‘circle work’.

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