We have a handout we often use when introducing Circle to new folks: it shows a tree whose roots are marked “Circle” and whose branches illustrate the modern adaptations of this ancient social form. We are more and more making sure in our training and consulting work that we introduce people to several of these circle-based methodologies, and we speak with excitement and hope about the uprising of “a global culture of conversation.”
In our recent time with Eileen Fisher company in NY, we used World Café with 70+ people to gather ideas between the company and the newly developing Eileen Fisher Community Foundation which focuses on leadership development for women and girls and promotes the understanding of ethical and collaborative business practices as a movement for social good. A great afternoon… and it prompts me to write a bit about the adaptations we are experimenting with to enhance the harvest of the Café form.
We offered 3 rounds of conversation and two questions. In a World Café round, a table group of four participants addresses the question for (in this case) 25 minutes. Then one person volunteers to stay at the table and host the space, the others leave and look for a new match to seed the conversation widely throughout the room. In October, I had done this with 120+ people at the Sage-ing International Conference and had the joy of having Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, designers of the World Café, in the room doing it with us. Early on, I overheard Juanita make a comment about looking at aging from a multi-generational perspective. Ninety minutes later, when we harvested the insights of the café, a variation of her comment showed up at 9 out of 24 tables. Discovering both diversity and cross-pollination is the genius of World Café.
You can also imagine that clearly capturing essential, statements can be a challenge. People are talking, doodling, listening, and moving on with their excitement or interest… How to build something coherent from the rounds and each table? Our current experiment is to place blank sheets at each table asking for three essence statements from each round. So before a group disbands they spend the last 5 minutes in a circle check-out process deciding what was most significant for them and writing it down. Then when 3 new people cluster for the next round, the host has talking points, so do all the new voices at the table.
This seems such a little adjustment, but we have found it immensely helpful in focusing the harvest of the conversation. The bigger the group, the more this is needed.