Archive: Multi-Cultural Work Council

February 1, 2000
By Clare Taylor

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Each month we share with you a story of how circle is being used effectively in a variety of settings. Our goal is to bring the circle into the mainstream. This month’s story, written by Clare Taylor, illustrates the use of circle in a diverse working setting. Thank you, Clare.

As an Organization Development Manager, I work in a highly diverse organization with 190 employees, reporting over 30 different primary languages. At least 1/3rd of our employees speak English as their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language.

The team around which this story takes place is composed of six team members, all women, ranging in age from approximately 30 to 60 years. Four of the team members have a language other than English as their primary language. There are two Vietnamese (immigrated in different decades), one Chinese-Vietnamese, one Burundi-African, and one Multi-Ethnic-American. Their manager is Caucasian-American. They are a newly developed team, with a new function and a new manager. They work in different buildings, in different parts of the city and they serve entirely different communities. Their challenges are substantial.

The leader, Nancy (names have been changed), intended to help the team develop a common purpose and to build trust, but she was beginning to feel ineffective, cut off from and not trusted by her team members. She asked me to help with team development.

I interviewed each team member individually, and learned that there was growing judgment that Nancy was not listening, was not "going to bat for them" with upper management, and that she was underestimating their contribution to and capacity for good work. When I interviewed Nancy I learned that it was in her heart to listen and to support, and that she held great respect for each team member’s ability to do good work and to meet the challenges ahead. Clearly her impact was not matching her intention. What to do?

After the interviews it was time for me to give Nancy feedback. I gave her clear, strong, undiluted feedback. She decided to call the team together to learn more and to work these issues. The team set aside a morning.

I asked each team member to bring an object that reminded them of the most important reason they have chosen to do this work, their highest purpose, and to come prepared to tell this story from their heart. When we came together, I set a stone sculpture of people in a circle in the center. I asked each person to tell their story and to place their object in the center. I asked the rest of us to listen from our hearts. This process took a while. It was the perfect investment of time. With their stories they had woven the fabric that would hold us together for the rest of our work. I said so.


With the container firmly established, we moved toward the difficult task of bringing forward the results of the interviews. While Nancy had already received this information, it was the first time I had spoken it in the room with all the team members. At the end of my speaking, I asked the team members if I had heard them and if I was representing their experience accurately? There was what seemed to be an embarrassed silence and then there were nods of heads in agreement. I worried. Was anyone going to say more?

Nancy shared the impact on her of what she had heard. She shared her concern and her intention to listen, to support and to value each person on the team. Then she asked to learn more from them directly.

I asked one of the women who brought a stone, if we could use it. She agreed. I said, "Holding this stone gives you permission to help Nancy by giving her the information she is asking for. It also means that while you hold this, others are listening to you from their heart and supporting you and Nancy in your conversation. If the stone comes to you and you are not ready to speak, please hold it for a few seconds in silence to make sure you have nothing to say, and then pass it to the person on your left. It will come back around so you will have another time to speak." I asked Lynn, a Vietnamese woman, to pick up the stone. She held the stone silently, gazed at the center of our circle, rubbed the stone’s rough edges and after a bit turned toward Nancy. Lynn began to speak her truth with respect. The two of them leaned into dialogue. Nancy learned about the impact on Lynn (not all easy to hear), and Lynn learned more about Nancy’s heartfelt intentions. All of us learned about the organizational restraints that created some of the misunderstandings in the first place. Periodically, I would coach the interaction, but not much coaching was needed. Healing began to take place, while the rest of us held them together by our listening. When they both felt complete, Lynn passed the stone to another woman.

Again the team member spoke from her heart. Again more wisdom surfaced about their interpersonal communication and the systemic issues at play. This process repeated itself all the way around the circle. No one held the weight of feedback alone. Trust was built. Skills were developed. Everyone was the wiser.

From an organizational development perspective, I am excited by how Circle provided the context for whole system learning and interpersonal relationship development simultaneously. I am encouraged by how Circle allowed people from highly diverse cultures to give direct feedback. I further believe that Circle has helped this leader lead by creating the space for highest intentions to be declared, making it possible for every voice to be heard and by providing the opportunity for team members to support each other simply by listening from the heart. I ask you to join me in bringing Circle into the everydayness of our working lives. I believe the power of Circle can transform how we work together and what we ultimately accomplish.