The Circle of Invitation
Gather in a circle? Ned, are you crazy? This is a workplace not some hand holding kumbaya love fest!
No I am not crazy and you don’t have to be part of a kumbaya love fest to pull this off.
The circle is the most prevalent geometric shape natural to nature. Everything you see has a circular shape to it; the moon, earth, sun, clouds, trees, animals, (some of us are a little more circular than others) and so on.
Since the beginning of mankind people have been gathering in circles. To this day, indigenous people gather in circles, mainly because there is no man made architectural structure like a conference room or a classroom that dictates how they should sit. When the tribe gathers they just begin to sit looking at each other, then a circle forms and before long they are all together. What is interesting to see when people gather like this is that there is no position in the circle for the person of power. In other words, there is no front of the room where the teacher stands or the head of the conference table where the boss sits. You have all been in the following situation. There is a meeting in the boardroom. You walk in and there is one seat available and you start looking for the boss. You do not see the boss and your co-workers start snickering and ask you where you are going to sit.
That is a typical response to a Western European/American hierarchical meeting arrangement. If the tables had been gone and the chairs were set in a circle, you would not have looked. It would just be natural to take the next available seat. Since there is no position of power in a circle we don’t even think to look for one.
You all know King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Whether King Arthur was real or the stuff of great legend is a topic for another day. Many legends and myths are false on the outside and true on the inside.
The inside story is that King Arthur used the round table given to him by his father-in-law as part of a dowry and it was the place for the King and Knights to meet to avoid conflict and to flatten the authority without wiping it out altogether.
I was first introduced to using this when I was in the Army. A commander I worked for would have small staff meetings around his coffee table in his office. They were relaxed and none of us ever forgot who was in charge or who out ranked whom.
If you have toolbox talks, tailgate meetings or stand up meetings you will notice they all naturally form a shape of a circle.
In my program, Crash The Barriers: Build the Team, we practice an exercise using the circle to understand how it can be used at work.
If you want to try this for your next staff meeting, just put the chairs in a circle prior to the group coming in. At first your co-workers may not be sure of it, but once you and everyone notices that the meetings run shorter and more is accomplished with less struggle, you will begin to use circles more and more.