Tips: calling a circle and building capacity among leaders

Kathy Toogood, this month’s blogger, shares lessons learned when calling a circle to create a support network among like-minded colleagues and build capacity among leaders.

Calling a Circle and Building Capacity Among Leaders

1.     Pay attention to your conversations: as you listen to others, you will discern those who may be weary, striving, or feeling isolated, and who would be interested in being part of a support network.

2.     It is best to have at least one friend or colleague who is all in, to help with the initial hosting. Process is best hosted as a team; with one person to lead process and another to be a guardian. Katharine and I did this for each other.

3.     Use the resources provided on The Circle Way website. We sent each participant The Circle Way Guidelines and followed its elements in hosting a circle conversation.

4.     Share the various tasks: I was the administrative host who sent out emails, each month there would be a location host, snack hosts, and process hosts. If one person is doing all of these things, it quickly becomes a burden. In the beginning, Katharine and I did most of the hosting, inviting others to take turns on snacks. Over time, we encouraged others to take on the various roles, offering their home, or then hosting with one of us to build capacity.

5.     We decided on dates for the year ahead, following a pattern, such as the fourth Monday of the month, taking into account ongoing commitments. Occasionally we shifted, but that helped us build it into our schedules for those who attended regularly.

6.     Each year we checked in with the group. Are the agreements working for you? Is this still meeting a need? What should stay the same? What should change? Do each of you still want to be a part of the circle? Is there someone else you want to invite?

7.     Our invitation to people was open, with no judgment or pressure regarding participation or continuing. We trusted that the people who came were the right people.

8.     We found that shared experience was an important foundation. If a person’s work situation changed, the group wasn’t as meaningful to them.

9.     After three years, soon after I left the principalship for a government job, the circle came to an end. The attendance had declined in the last year, and in a new position, it wasn’t as meaningful for me anymore. Circles can have a life cycle-a season-and that is good. I am grateful for the season that I shared with these friends and colleagues.