Why We Do Learning Circles


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.

3 thoughts on “Why We Do Learning Circles

  1. I’m wondering if/how to use a learning circle with a large group – about 50 – at the end of a meeting to introduce concepts of culture change and help people begin the journey

    1. 50 people is quite a large group for a learning circle, so I’d suggest that you identify a couple of other people who would be willing to facilitate beforehand and break into 3 or 4 circles. You’ll want to coach the other facilitators on the process before the meeting.Then after the education/meeting, have the participants get into the smaller circles, with a facilitator for each. The leader could still pose the question (standing up so all circles could hear the question clearly) and then from that point, the facilitators move the process. It is important for each facilitator to understand the very minimal role they play in the circles – merely to listen, to interrupt only if someone breaks the movement of the circle by speaking out of turn, at the end of the circle to return to anyone who has passed to see if they would like a chance to speak, and then to open for discussion.

  2. hi there , would just like to say just how powerful the learning circle are, we use them all the time in are house in moorehall lodge ardee Ireland . the residents love the circles and if we go without having a circle they are not long before they are asking for a circle , the residents have just changed the front room in are house Anam Chara they picked the wallpaper and paint and are very proud of their work .. learning circle is a very powerful tool to use both for staff &residents . we use the circle to make change within the house , to introduce new staff or residents to plan partys just basically for everything in the day to day running of the house hope you are all well yours chrissie barron MHL ardee Ireland

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