The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair

 photo credit: Craig neal

photo credit: Craig neal


Craig's May 18 conversation with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, Co-founders, PeerSpirit Inc. was as engaging as any conversation we've had. Christina and Ann bring wisdom, authenticity, humor, love to all that they do.

In their work Christina and Ann noticed that more and more organizations are looking for alternatives to rigid, top-down hierarchy as people realize that good ideas can come from anywhere and that fostering collaboration and group cohesion is vital to any healthy enterprise. But what approach can best create an environment that ensures clear speaking, compassionate listening, and the making of well-grounded decisions? Circle.  Th  The Circle Way lays out the basics of circle conversation based on the original work of the coauthors, who have studied and standardized the essential elements of circle practice and implemented them in a variety of organizations for over fifteen years.

Circle is the molecular unit of democratic practice. Every voice counts. When you are in the circle it doesn’t matter who you are outside the circle.

Peer spirit circles: when we’re practice our engagement as peers, spirit floods through us. The wisdom is in the room, the wisdom is in the circle. We lean in and stay in even when the going gets tough. Then the wisdom comes flying through sometimes the most unusual person.

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The circle depends on us to hold together the agreements of civility. If someone is incapable of maintaining an attitude of civility, then the circle won’t hold. Anger or incivility can be directed into the center, into the candle, for instance, but not directed at an individual. The circle and hierarchy are not mutually exclusive. Circle can be particularly challenging if the person(s) holding hierarchy in an organization don’t wish to have a leader in every chair.

The structural elements of the circle are akin to the human structure. Each person that carries circle language or form back to their organizations or families is the right person to create the form and language that fits their group.

The circle by its very nature creates something that occurs —a recognition without having to say anything at all. What do you say about the circle that has inherent properties that makes it work so well? 

The circle is an archetype, part of our collective unconscious and our social DNA. People often come into a room and say, “what is happening here?” and nothing has been said yet. It’s just that the chairs aren’t bolted down in rows. And a different kind of presence is called for. No multi-tasking, no control from the front of the room.

The circle invites the whole of us to be present. We’re all visible. People are searching for a place where their whole self is welcome, not just our technical or sales savvy.

Advice from Christina and Ann: just try it. Just try a check-in and check-out. Try it in gentle places. Follow your heart with it. Know you always have support. Just keep breathing.