Archive: Starting a new era with circle process

by Matthias zur Bonsen
November 2014

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This month's Circle Tale is written by longtime The Circle Way colleague Matthias zur Bonsen of All-in-One-Spirit Consulting, Germany. Matthias has hosted Christina and Ann in Germany several times over the past few years--organizing practica and advanced trainings in The Circle Way. He and his colleague Jutta Herzog now offer The Circle Way trainings in German. 

Matthias also carefully stewarded the translation and publication of The Circle Way into German (Circle: Die Kraft des Kreises); and he, Jutta, and Swiss colleague Myriam Mathys, wrote the preface for the German edition.

We were delighted that Matthias attended the Second Fire Gathering last spring on Whidbey Island. We appreciated his presence and the wisdom he brought to the gathering, AND we were glad to finally be able to host and offer him the hospitality he has so graciously extended to Christina and Ann. Thank you Matthias, for your support of The Circle Way, and for sharing the following story.

In October 2014, the leadership team of a company, based in Bavaria, Germany, is meeting for 2.5 days to start a new era. The company has about 800 employees and is one of the many jewels of German manufacturing. It has a worldwide sales network, plants on three continents, and an unsurpassed reputation for quality and reliability in its markets. Yet the two families who have owned the company for decades have been fighting with each other for years. As a consequence, its innovative drive has suffered. Three weeks ago, one of the families sold its shares to the other; and the most visionary leader of the old leadership team is now the new CEO (and main shareholder). The team itself has been reshaped, two people left, a new person arrived. And now 2.5 days in a hotel in a picturesque Bavarian village have been scheduled to mark a new beginning.

It begins in a circle. The six participants of the offsite meeting bring objects that show what inspires them about the company: an organizational chart with pictures of all managers, tiny components, a tea bag together with a quote from Nancy Reagan, "You never know how strong a woman is until you put her in hot water".

The company now is in hot water. Debt has considerably increased to pay out the other family. We revisit together the decades since the company's inception just after World War II--the times when the company lived up to its mission and its truth and when it did not. We identified its DNA--the passion and sense of mission that had fueled and will fuel its excellence and its growth.

We create a vision of the "next level" the leadership team wants the company to reach. "Our high cost plants in Germany will still be competitive and we will be able to maintain them at approximately the same size they are today" is one of the aspects of this next level. (This alone will require a huge increase in performance.) We talk about the culture its leaders want to create. We talk about the necessity to get to a new level regarding meetings. We articulate agreements for the leadership team, decide about its meeting structure and its decision-making process.

The German proverb "In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft" (power resides in calmness/quietness) is quoted several times to describe the type of meetings that are now needed--after a long history of uncivilized meetings. The group is astonished how often (despite its good intentions) it begins to move too fast and not really listen anymore. The members of the leadership team are increasingly grateful for the bell, which I as guardian, am ringing. They notice that already, the movement of my arms in direction of the bell makes them calm down. They are proud that during the last half day the bell rings only once. 

They enjoy slowing down the conversation with a "talking ball" (one of the objects brought by one member of the leadership team) that they throw to each other. The group decides to use The Circle Way as its meeting process. Now, the German edition of The Circle Way is also lying in the center of the circle. There are several highly gifted people in the group who will be great guardians. The participants and I leave the site with a lot of hope and optimism for the future, and I am grateful that I can help midwife this birth of a new era.