The learning circle is the handy hammer of culture change – anyone can use it, it’s simple, it’s intuitive and it’s the tool you come back to, over and over, with each new piece of home life you build. For the Household Model to function at its potential, the organization must be reconfigured, doing away with traditional silos and hierarchy. The learning circle is the tool that can assist the organization in that work. It may look like just a bunch of people sitting around talking, too simple to really do anything, but like any healthy habit or routine, if done regularly, it will have a profound effect on the system.
Perhaps the most important use of the learning circle is with residents. (Though when used with residents, we call it a community circle and worry less about the rules. See the link at the bottom of this post to learn about different types of circles.) We’ve often heard that residents are so institutionalized that when we do finally ask them what they want or prefer, they won’t really say. They don’t want to be a bother, or they are so used to being disappointed, that they don’t believe any action will come of their requests. The community circle is comfortable and friendly, but has about it a whiff of meeting, that is, an environment where what is said is important. This can be helpful in convincing residents that we really do want to hear what they think and take it seriously. Also, when action comes from the community circles, the residents come to trust our sincerity even more. Community circles with resident grow and strengthen community while being the source of true resident direction.
When used by staff, the learning circle is key to flattening the organization. Every voice is heard and is equal. From transformation planning to daily operation of the household, every member of the team weighs in with ideas, concerns and his or her view of the situation. In a hierarchy, there is often miscommunication or incomplete sharing of information along the chain of command. In a self-led team, in a community, in a circle – everyone has a say and everyone gets the full picture.
Transforming organizations use learning circles regularly but sometimes drop their use once into the routines of household life. This is a mistake. The work of creating home is never done. Daily life in households is enhanced when staff and residents take the time to be with each other, to listen and share, and to come to consensus on a variety of topics.
You can read more about the learning circle and its variations and download the Circles Everywhere handout here. As always we’d love to hear your stories about using learning circles in our comments section.