Archive: Introducing circle to my nursing unit

by Karen Ryan
March 2014

This post has been moved from its original location at and archived here, so you can continue to access it.

This month's Circle Tale comes to us from nurse manager Karen Ryan. Karen explains her introduction to circle as follows: "About a year ago I was introduced to peer circles in my Master's of Nursing program. Dr. Mary O'Connor, College of Notre Dame Nursing, had us read The Circle Way and implemented a cohort circle for us. It's easy to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted when you are juggling a career, home life, and then school on top of that. For me and others in our cohort, peer circle was a place to talk about all of those outside pressures. It was a way of encouraging collaboration, support, and creativity among us that has become familiar and helpful."

Read on to see how Karen introduced circle in her workplace. Thank you Karen, for sharing your story!

Moving beyond my master’s degree cohort, I decided to utilize the concepts of peer circle on my unit. I have been a nurse manager for almost two years on a unit with many senior staff who are stuck in old practices, have difficulty managing change, (who doesn’t?), and have not really embraced my leadership (they had the same nurse manager for 15 years).

More specifically, the unit nursing staff has difficulty with basic conversation skills, (i.e. taking turns speaking, listening, and cooperating). In addition, the nurses really like it when I solve their problems instead of them working collaboratively to solve problems. For these reasons, I felt strongly that I needed to introduce the concept of peer circle, so I could encourage them to listen to each other and teach them they have the power to be leaders.

In addition to making the invitation, The Circle Way encourages the host to be prepared to release some of their power. The book talks about being prepared “not necessarily for trouble but for a release of power” and that people are anticipating and waiting for these conversations, but that the conversations cannot occur “until a strong interpersonal container is set out for them.”  (page 38). I held our first peer circle a few weeks ago. Following the principles of the circle, I sent invitations prior to the meeting. Along with my invite, I had asked the nurses to answer two questions. The first question was what inspired them to become nurses? My second question was what keeps them inspired to stay in nursing? The questions were my attempt at creating a container or providing some structure for this group because my sense was that they were arriving ready to fight.

I asked the nurses to “check in” by answering these two questions. I was very surprised at how the tone of the room and the energy completely changed after a few of the nurses told wonderful stories about why they were inspired to become nurses. The tone went from anxiety, stress, and negativity to openness and compassion. Some of the nurses were tearful as they described why they became nurses, which I was not expecting at all. After everyone checked in, I mentioned in summary to the nurses that we all come to the table with something in common. Of course, the common link is that we are all nurses here to help others. 

The rest of the meeting went well, I believe, because the tone was set from the very beginning. I did get some very positive feedback about the meeting, which was a great feeling. My goal is to continue using this with the nursing staff and at some point in the future, push this out to the entire staff, which will be a process. Again, change is hard and this will definitely be a challenge for the entire staff. My hope is that they will eventually see the benefit of shared leadership in this format.