Business How circles can improve workplace collaboration

How circles can improve workplace collaboration


The way we communicate at work is changing, and not entirely for the better. According to Harvard Business Review, our time spent in meetings has more than increased 50% over the past ten years, and now comprises 85% of our working lives. Voice and video call times have doubled, while Instant Messenger traffic has increased by 65%.

At first glance, these statistics seem to indicate an increase in the kind of group collaboration that business leaders want to see. In reality, all that time we spend together often hurts our productivity and mental well-being — and doesn’t always lead to the kind of collective wisdom we might imagine. So, how do we get back to a model of strong, cohesive team building that actually improves decision making and drives growth?

The answer, according to the founder of One House Sarah Berneris as simple as elegant: Circles.

Circle work is a versatile and flexible approach to group communication that can be adapted to many different contexts and purposes. At a high level, it means creating space for people to come together, learn from new perspectives and generate a broader, shared approach that ultimately leads to new and improved solutions. Circles are an alternative to the mass communication methods that are so common in the workplace today. Rather than wasting time and producing few results, Berner argues that circles can cut through the noise, giving us a more comprehensive understanding of each problem and what needs to change.

“Circles can be implemented in many areas of an organization, depending on needs and structure,” Berner told me. “F500 companies and many other organizations are beginning to rely on circles as a tool to optimize corporate culture and innovation efforts and, when necessary, restore culture and clean up a toxic work environment.”

Understanding the circle

As the founder of One House, Berner maintains circles for a variety of game-changers, visionaries, mentors and investors – creating and incubating supportive environments for individuals and their communities to thrive. She does this by using techniques that broaden perspectives and de-escalate conflict, while also getting to the truth of a case.

Each circle focuses on six commonly agreed guidelines that ensure inclusiveness and promote diversity. Circles work best when they consist of eight or nine people, so Berner recommends that larger organizations allocate time for small-group sessions that take place in a circle. The topic can range from the mundane, such as Excel spreadsheets, to the transformative, such as how to deal with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Regardless of the topic, Berner says the format of the circle still promotes deep realizations and healing, and also often promotes problem solving, innovation, and solution implementation.

“The subject of a circle can be anything, so the organization can easily tailor a circle to specific values ​​and culture to help everyone,” Berner noted. “It is also essential that the circle is aligned with an authentic mission, especially when the situation may be more emotional, or when the circle serves as a vehicle to help rebuild.”

Circles In The Workplace

Implementation must start at the top, with executive leadership. By using circles themselves, leaders can demonstrate enthusiasm for this new method while fostering mutual trust and collaboration from the start.

“Circles are used for senior leadership at large organizations to ensure leaders stay connected, aligned, and aware of the broadest possible perspective,” said Berner.

Buy-in from the top helps circles succeed, but circles also ensure that all voices are heard and integrated – making them a powerful tool for improving employee retention and loyalty. Circles can also provide opportunities for offsite bonding events, or ways to further engage consumers or customers.

It is important to note that the circle format also contrasts with more traditionally patriarchal power structures or hierarchies, allowing for a female power structure as well as a new approach to the way things are usually done. As the workforce evolves, and lead with itit becomes important to consider how the way we communicate at work can reflect these changes.

“Gloria Steinem has been using circles in her organizations for decades,” says Berner.

Creating successful circles

The key to implementing circles, says Berner, is proper training: “The fastest way to train employees is to create a circle for those individuals who would be ‘stayers’. Circles are only as powerful as their guardians and participants.”

The workout can last up to 10 hours and can be completed over two days, although Berner recommends a one-week period with plenty of time between training hours. “The most important requirement is a commitment from management and employees to attend and maintain consistent meeting times,” she explains.

Employee training is critical to the circle’s success. As Berner notes, circles are not a Band-Aid and must have a clearly defined intent and purpose, defined by leadership: “Circles are a simple construct, but they are an art, not a science. They therefore need tuned keepers who respect the circle guidelines and can help enforce them.” This is especially crucial for circles around sensitive topics, where emotions can run high.

Measure circle success

With buy-in from leadership and employees trained as keepers, organizations can use a variety of ways to define the success of their circles. Berner recommends anonymous employee surveys as the best way to track results and identify room for improvement. The topic and intended outcome of the circle can also greatly influence how success is tracked.

“A DEI-oriented circle will have vastly different success metrics versus a circle focused on innovation or focused problem solving,” Berner said.

Coming full circle

One House’s ultimate goal is to combine the tools circles provide with other useful mechanisms to help advance solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. In the meantime, Berner is confident that organizations implementing circles will see a boost in employee well-being and morale, as well as benefit from better collective decision-making.

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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