Over the past three years, we’ve been building software for peer learning circles. Those of you that know the story know that this mission came from a personal place. My YPO and EO forums, Henry Crown Fellowship at Aspen, or even M5’s Battle of the Bands were the most impactful learning experiences I’ve had. The Circl.es team and I have been chasing the question, “Could everyone in the world grow in a peer circle?“ The software we built, with a new kind of virtual meeting space at its heart, helped launch and scale learning programs at schools like Harvard Business School and companies like Square and Bankers Life.
Along the way, though, we discovered something interesting. The practices that drive effective peer learning generally happen during powerful meetings. These practices foster more authentic communication, quickly build connection, and help people listen to each other. They gently push people to surface and address bigger issues than they might normally do.
Who else needs better listening, authentic communication, and to face big challenges head-on? Teams. I’m talking about modern teams – creative, agile, small groups – not the kind when subordinates follow orders. This kind of teamwork requires psychological safety, accountability, and engagement, just like peer learning. We’ve started to discover that peer learning practices in team meetings can produce breakthrough performance and a sense of connection. This kind of real, high-quality “collaboration” is in demand.
When we surveyed friends that are managers (many of you), almost everyone had an issue near the top of their priority list that required better teamwork. “I’m a bottleneck.” “I need better division of labor on my team.” “I’m worried about losing a key person.” “We don’t have enough resources to make plan.” “We need to innovate.” And so on.
Regular, small doses of peer learning practices injected into meetings boost teamwork.
This is a more durable way to build teamwork than implementing project management software to create accountability, creating yet another inbox with Slack or a trip to the ropes course. (you should consider those things too. I do love offsites.) If our hunch is right, it’s a way for teams to build better and better teamwork over time, while getting things done.
We’ve been testing on ourselves for months. Our team meetings, in the words of our skeptical CTO, became “so much better.” Last month, we ran a small pilot for 15 standing teams. Two had technical glitches, three didn’t get it, but about 10 of them loved it and wanted more. So, we’ve decided to expand into a larger pilot that starts this January. Can Circles be a platform that helps teams learn and practice techniques that build teamwork, meeting by meeting?
I know that my YPO forum and my Aspen seminars are the best meetings I attend. I know that I feel more connected to those peers than to many others in my life. Many of my fellow participants in these “Circles” programs, say that they bring practices from Forum or Aspen back to their companies that improve them as leaders. But I’ve seen most of my friend’s attempts to bring their experiences back to their teams be clumsy. If only this was easier …
In my experience, the best innovations are not pure invention, they are cross-pollination. In 2019, we will find out if our peer learning software can instill practices that transform work teams. Happy New Year!
Are you interested in an easy way to build real teamwork? I’ll be I’ll be talking more about the practices and how we’re enabling them in coming posts. If you are up for it, try Circles in one of your upcoming meetings. I’d love your feedback. And later in the year, we’ll invite you to a formal beta program.
Here’s a story about selling my previous business, M5 Networks.
Anyone that worked at M5 could see how living by a mission and values motivated us. The mission was not even particularly glamorous or unique, just simply getting customers to love us one by one. Measuring that gave us all real satisfaction. But there was always an undercurrent: Isn’t our real mission making money for shareholders?
By 2011 the market we’d pioneered, cloud phones, was heating up. The team and I knew that we needed to go bigger or go home. In the course of putting together financing for our big growth plan, ShoreTel’s CEO asked me to lunch. This evolved into a buyout offer. We faced two options: take some more investment and play more hands at the table, or move on and cash out our chips.
I was surrounded by VPs and VCs. The VPs were relatively new, and were tempted by a quick payback. The VC’s had a 6-year itch and rationally were motivated to return capital. Their structure, our structure, meant I was surrounded by people who were tempted to sell. Once we started to explore the SHOR offer, I was surrounded by bankers and lawyers. Their incentive was to sell. I tell this story to any entrepreneur considering their exit. Before things go too far, go for a long lonely walk and make up your own mind. Once a deal is rolling, a lot of people around will be pushing for it. As we at Circles know, peer pressure is a thing.
After the successful sale, there was a certain sadness. A lot people felt that M5 had more good work to do. Some of our customers and staff felt that we’d let down our mission in the name of a juicy buyout offer. I’ve now had a chance to reflect on that tension.
I believe that business is the best structure for propagating a change in the world, and for-profit is the most likely structure to produce fast growth. So I’ve been looking for a way to set the right balance for Circles, the company (formally incorporated now as Circles Learning Labs, Inc.) I want employees, investors, customers all to be aligned around a better balance of growth, profit, and mission. I want us to be able to make balanced choices between applications that are lucrative – like corporate leaders – and ones that may be lower price like helping my friend Aditya create circles for the 5,000 school principals he works with in the toughest parts of India.
I get that one part of that is maintaining control, and leading with strength. Warren Buffet only reports once a year and does it his way because he’s an amazing leader. Some family businesses have this figured out and are the most long-term thinkers around. Kudos to Circles advisor Jeff Snipes who has helped a community of “enduring” companies with a long-term view called Tugboat Institute. I think I’m a clearer leader now, and I do have enough control to make these choices.
Another part is structural: things like compensation and options, the deal we cut with investors, or the way we measure our success. I’ll write more on those things as they crystalize for us.
Ultimately, though, I do believe in the power of peers. I want to be surrounded by people motivated by business as an instrument for social good. I want that kind of peer pressure. The Henry Crown fellowship has certainly been a positive force for me in that regard. Circles is my fellowship project.
Another famous HCF project was the B Corporation. Three fellows set out to create a corporate structure that made shareholders responsible for both share value and mission. Almost a decade later, they’ve created the Benefit Corporation structure in almost every state. There are about 2,000 B Corporations worldwide. They’ve added a stringent certification process layered on top of the legal requirement. And they’ve built a vibrant community so these entrepreneurs can help each other. Famous B corps now include Warby Parker, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Honest Tea, Kickstarter, and the list goes on.
So we’re going to be a B. But we are going to go one step farther. Since we’re a new company, we’ll elect to become a benefit corp, B Lab’s requirement to ensure considerations of stakeholder interests in our governance, which will allow us to be a Pending B Corp. After a year of performance above the bar for certification, we will try to meet the high standards to become a Certified B Corporation. Plus, the Circles team is excited about having an impact in helping this community, our new community. So we’re prioritizing launching circles for B corp leaders. We’ve just started calling around to make friends in our new community and gauging interest in B Corp Leadership Circles. It makes sense to us to help these leaders, help each other, help the world.
If you are a B Corp leader and this sounds like something you want to be a part of, you can
I’m more determined than ever to make Circles happen. It might even help stitch the fabric of the country back together. An online language teacher I worked with reminded me of the Yoda quote, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.” We know that ignorance and lack of familiarity can lead to fear.
What if we matched “reds” and “blues” together – not to talk about politics, but to work on and discuss common interests? Can face-to-face video bridge rural and urban when physical distance makes it impossible to be together? Would team-directed learning be an attractive option for some of the 2/3 left out of the higher education system? Can Circles help build empathy?
What we’re learning
Circles 4 -11 are running, with ten more coming behind them. Our merry band of part-timers is evolving towards being a founding team. We just spent 10 days together including two colleagues based in Barcelona and San Francisco. We’re getting a better idea of what we need to build.
We need speed. Launch to live is critical. We need to shorten the first email to first meeting interval if the business model will work.
Are the learners learning to learn? We’ve taken “The Meta Journey” and turned it into “The Learning Experience.” At its most fundamental, this is about encouraging self-directed learning, making peer groups accessible, and forwarding the “circles not rows” movement. More about all of that in an upcoming blog post. Here’s a cartoon that gives an overview of the experience.
Guides. We developed guide training and several guides have participated. We are learning a ton. The next step: a “launch guide” model in which the guide is only present for the first few meetings showing the learners how to guide each other. “I do, we do, you do.” This requires some interface work on the video meeting platform. We’ll start testing in a few weeks.
Video technology. Most of our meetings run without major issues now, but it is still not good enough. There are two dimensions to our core video technology: WebRTC vs. a native app; and using a service provider vs. building it ourselves. We continue to research possible partners and platforms.
User Interface. We’ve accumulated a backlog of features to build on the video meeting platform. Now that we have a couple more developers on the team, it will be exciting to roll these out into the current trials. Here’s a recent iteration of the new UX design we’re building upon:
The road ahead
More Test Circles. We need one more revision to all our key components: sorting/onboarding, the process, and the interfaces. Then we need to do about 10 more tests before we crystalize the plan.
Then, a jump. We started with 4 circles, now we are tracking about 15 circles, and next we’ll drive to 100+ circles. The shortest path to 100 circles is focus. And the most obvious, where the idea has already been socialized, is entrepreneurs. So that will be the theme for our first push. Can we recruit over 1,000 entrepreneurs from around the globe to pay and participate in Circles v1? The goal is for a small team to pull this off by next summer with our current technology.
Technology. We have two clear technology priorities. The first is an immersive video meeting experience, tailor-fit for this use-case. The second is onboarding quickly. We need to be able to recruit peers, match and spin up peer groups fast and at scale. We’re piecing together tools that will help us automate marketing, configuring surveys, sorting and communicating with prospective learners. After we get familiar with available tools, we’ll decide what we should build ourselves.
Team. I’ve received some lucky breaks and the team is coming together. We’ve got a small group of generalists who are figuring out how to divide the work and work together. As the strategy becomes clearer, our needs become clear. We still need a couple more core participants before we’re ready to take the next step up. But the biggest variable is that everyone, especially me, are still only working on this part time. I think our productivity will more than double if we moved to full time.
I would love to hear from you with any questions or ideas.
This is an early draft design of a learning journey, our first one. All learners will take this journey. Below is an outline of each drop, exploration topics for the first three meetings, and the ongoing drumbeat of topics intended to develop learning skill. Unlike the other journeys, we will spend 15 minutes visiting Meta at the start of every Circles session.
Imagine that each drop is injected into a particular circle’s WhatsApp discussion, every day or so. When someone responds to a question, it may or may not spur ongoing discussion. The meeting exploration process is outlined here.
This needs a ton of work. I’m looking forward to the input of the real experts advising us that have experience designing learning journeys.
A. Pre-kickoff drops (a “drop” is short content or a reflection injected into chat) B. Orientation to Learning to Learn: paper, podcast and/or movie (20 minutes) C. Kickoff Exploration: Committing D. 6 drops E. Meeting One Exploration: Visualizing Goals F. 6 drops G. Meeting Two Exploration: Beginner’s Mind H. Follow-up Drops and Meeting opener topics for all next meetings
A. Pre-kickoff drops
1. Joke. My ideal learning experience. This is what we’re trying to build:
2. What we’re interested in is “skills acquisition.” Let’s take wide definition of a skill. Being honest is a skill. Showing up for work on time is a skill. Collecting an inventory of people to delegate to (plumbers, accountants, you name it) is a skill. Creating, welding, meditating, using Evernote to track stuff – skills.
I’m not against learning facts. I agree with David Brook’s op-ed that “The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy.” But can’t we afford to spend less energy on teaching facts now? They are widely available. And the world is too wide and dynamic for a teacher or employer to keep up with important facts. Maybe if we can back off a little on shoving facts down the collective gullet, people will go after the facts they care about, and build lasting skill while doing it.
Another way to look at it all is “Knowledge is the capacity to act.”
Q: What is the quadratic equation (don’t cheat)? – answers sent around the circle Q2: What skills do you want to learn? – answers sent around the circle, noted by guide
3. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Gandhi – Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.
Graduating. The past tense word “educated,” stunts growth. It prevents people from paying attention to maintaining important skills. Worse, adult education has a light stigma, a tinge of the remedial, a waft of seekers and weirdos. Life-long learning sounds like retirees taking art history classes. Most people go after degrees for any reason except to learn stuff.
Q: What do you do to learn, now? How many hours out of about 600/month do you spend learning? What activities exactly are you counting as learning?
4. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Teaching. Minerva founder Ben Nelson did a one-week wine exploration of Argentina guided by an expert, and a similar one-week tour of Chile that he had to research and organize himself. Two years later, Ben remembers barrels about Chilean wine and only drops about Argentinian wine. We need a new word – our old expectations of a teacher are obsolete. The subject matter can now be decoupled from the teacher. People can stop waiting around for someone to shove information into their heads. We do need people to help us learn, but in very different roles than we are used to. When learners own their learning, it sticks. I like the saying “There is no teaching, only learning.” Socrates knew this, Maria Montessori knew this, and recently a whole battery of “learning scientists” have rediscovered it.
Q: Are you a good teacher? Do you wanna be? Why?
5. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Classes. In the 1800s, we lifted our education model from the Prussians. It efficiently marched people through material in a defined interval of time, called a class. All higher education in the US runs on this system, and usually uses units called credit-hours. Think 12-week courses, then a test. If you score 70%, you pass, get your credits, and move on. Formal corporate training generally seems to copy this idea. Why doesn’t a course end whenever a learner gets to 100%? Then there would be no gaps in their understanding of the material, and learners can move on confidently. People learn at different speeds – maybe some can finish faster? Courses need to be structured with the goal of achieving competency or mastery, not just logging the hours. This would be a huge mindset and institutional change.
6. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Tests. Sal Khan of Khan academy has a riff on how our test-driven schools are messed up. Tests take a snapshot and don’t measure how well you will retain the information. They randomly discriminate against those that happened not to study the subset of the subject on the test. And they punish failure, one of the best ways to learn. He’s talking about summative assessments, which measure what you learned AFTER a class. Formative assessments – little pop quizzes and teachers that use the socratic method and so forth, which help you figure out what you are missing while you are learning, and get you to interact and wrestle with the material, are helpful.
7. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
The way we organize knowledge in school – math, science, english, etc. – is another vestigial artifact. The problem exists in corporate training as well, where, except at the level of “leadership training” we tend to organize around roles – “sales training.” Yet research by Daniel Goleman and others shows that more than two-thirds of success is related to “softer” factors. How can we work on the pieces underneath the technical skills?
B. The Framework Paper, Podcast, Movie
The main “chunk” of content in this journey (so has to be awesome) This should take 20 minutes to review We’ve posted an initial design for this
C. Kickoff Exploration: Commitment
Discussion question. Group picks one to start with. A leader prepares, opens in depth.
Life is busy. How do you keep a commitment? What has worked and where have you failed?
Do you help anyone else in your life keep a commitment?
Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
What commitment are you prepared to make to this Circle? (guide can put some examples on screen).
D. Next Drops – mostly around goals and visualization
Draft coming very soon…
8. Art of Learning: Entity vs. Incremental Excerpt (1-2) pages 9. 10. 11. 11. 13.
E. Exploration Two: Goals
Share your most important three goals right now in vivid detail?
How will you know if they are completed? Measure progress?
Do you have all the skills you need to complete the goal? What skills might help?
What are your personal goals for this Circle?
F. Next Drops – mostly around Flow
14. Quotes from Art of Learning 15. More from Art of Learning 16.Ted Talk:
G. Exploration Three – Beginner’s mind
Describe your feelings starting Circles?
Do you have all the help you need? What stops you from getting help?
Are you competing with anyone in the Circle right now?
What are three things you can work on to become a better listener?
H. Follow-up Drops and Meeting opener topics for all next meetings
In the first wave of testing Circles, we learned the limits of our learner’s ability to absorb content. We’ve tried to boil things way down to have a simpler experience during this next wave of tests. We restricted ourselves to one “drop” of content every two weeks, with an activity and discussion. This is designed to nudge the group forward from strangers to becoming a “level one circle” that functions smoothly. They are open, believe brains are plastic, trust each other, give and receive feedback well. They use the circle to set and monitor their personal learning goals to reflect and deepen their learning. Ultimately, we want them to reach week twelve of “level one” open to the power of a Circles experience, ready to keep going. So here’s our updated draft plan for doing that. We’d love any questions and feedback.
Meta Journey Overview
In the first three months of a journey with Circles, learners form a level one “learning circle,” capable of solving each other’s problems and accelerating progress towards their personal goals. Learners will get better and better in three fundamental areas, which we categorize as Act, Learn and Teach (ALT). These fundamental skills contain many sub-skills, such as setting clear goals, having an open mindset, being vulnerable, building a safe circle, giving and receiving feedback, developing habits, and rewiring your own brain. The Act, Learn and Teach cycle repeats every three months, each time covering new sub-skills and building towards mastery. This dynamic ALTernative approach contrasts with the traditional educational model in which students receive information from teachers and follow a static curriculum.
The following outlines the proposed outcomes, structure and content for the first three-month “meta journey.” (meta = metacognition, learning to learn).
Preliminary Goals. The journey with Circles begins the moment a learner applies to join. They are guided through the Circles Sorting App; a series of questions to profile, identify and refine a goal they want to achieve over their first three months. Diverse examples might include running a marathon, to learning to meditate, or developing a work skill such as leadership, design thinking or coding.
Themes. Circles have a “theme” which is a common area of interest that incorporates each of their preliminary goals. The theme is likely to last many three-month cycles, but the group may decide to change it.
Guide. Each circle is matched with a guide, whose role is as the “facilitator” of the group. The guide may be familiar with the theme or goal of a circle, but is no expert. Guides are responsible for:
Ensuring that the technology works well for everyone, developing and guiding meeting agendas and process, facilitating scheduling and answering questions. Helping the group get and stay comfortable.
Guiding the meta journey:
A guide supports the learning process – both as individual learners, and as a group becoming better and better as a “learning circle.” Guides are also responsible for keeping discussions relevant to learner goals and weaving metacognitive skill development into the experience. Guides work as guides in part to build their own mastery in the “ALT skills”.
Guides light the initial fire and keep it lit. This includes managing engagement, understanding learner motivations and making sure they align with the circle.
The Level One Meta Journey: Structure and Outcomes
The meta journey consists of:
MEETINGS: The group and guide meet in the Circles video room bi-weekly for 90 minutes
DROPS: Weekly activities and information delivered and completed via a chat platform
Other touch points from the guide or Circles team that support the learning experience
The meta journey is designed to build the skills and capabilities of learners to form a learning machine, where their circle is capable of keeping the Act, Learn and Teach cycle in motion, and deepen their learning over time.
The Meta Journey: Content
Learners identify the specific outcome they want to achieve by the end of the initial three months. They also learn the brain science that underpins goal-setting and learning.
Orientation: 40 minute video call between learners and guide to test the Circles technology and walk through the circle norms (see Orientation process below)
DROP: Group introductions: Learners introduce each other using available public info
MEETING 1: Joy/Pain sharing, present 12 week goal to group (see Agenda below).
Learners build self-awareness through insights into the key skills and character traits associated with a growth mindset and being vulnerable.
DROP: How the brain works/neuroplasticity. Podcast explaining how brain science relates to learning. Learner from another circle reaches out via email, testifies and offers support.
DROP: Goal setting activity that supports learners to refine and clarify their goals (visualization exercise leading into SMART goal process).
MEETING 2: Goal check in, challenge exploration (see Agenda below).
DROP: Vulnerability: Brene Brown’s TED talk with accompanying key facts and resources
MEETING 3: Goal check-in, challenge exploration (see Agenda below).
Group awareness is built as an understanding of group dynamics and the power of peers is gained. Learners begin to teach each other.
DROP: Storytelling: Send videos of learners storytelling from a previous meeting. Learners self-reflect in online chat.
MEETING 4: Goal check in, challenge exploration (see Agenda below).
DROP: Learners are asked to share questions they have about their goal. This is a fun, upbeat activity to encourage reflection and active group learning.
Learners are sent an email to get them thinking about their next goal and next circle (no call to action)
MEETING 5: Goal check-in, challenge exploration (see Agenda below).
Active learning is understood and practiced, and the group knows how to use each other to keep accountable and achieve goals. Learners reflect on their goals, assess, adjust and set new goals.
DROP: Learners are asked to write, draw or create a self-assessment on their progress, goal and other key skills such as vulnerability and storytelling. They are also asked to provide feedback to their peers.
DROP: Learners are taken through a new goal setting process to identify, refine and set their goal for the next circle.
MEETING 6: Goal closure and reflection, group reflection, present new goals, discuss and choose next theme and confirm meeting time.
Guide sends thank-you notes
The orientation is a 40-minute video call in the first week of a circle between a learner and the guide. The guide will set up a few times for the Circles learners to sign up. There might be a few learners in a session. Eventually, we might automate this as an interactive and gamified experience. The primary focus of orientation is to:
Ensure the learner has the Circles technology platform set up and working
Introduce the Circle norms (expectations)
Familiarize learners with process such as meeting agendas
Introduce the “learning circle” ALTernative vision
Over 40 minutes, this looks like:
Each meeting (with the exception of a circle’s first meeting) follows the same agenda, facilitated by the guide. Each learner is allocated a week to present their challenge, which the group will then explore in detail, using it as the launch pad for learning.
“Are You experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.” – Jimi Hendrix
Top EO trainer Mo Fathelbab calls “Forum” The Secret Advantage of Successful Leaders. Vistage chairman Leon Shapiro says it’s The Power of Peers. I’ve run into many coaches and leaders who, like me, consider our forum to be the most significant thing we’ve done to improve job performance. We’ve also seen how it changes the lives of hundreds of thousands of leaders and those that work with us.
Verne Harnish,Jeff Snipes, Bob Halperin, Kaley Klemp, Shirzad Chamine, Mo Fathelbab and many others have generously contributed to help create Circles because they are so passionate about forums. And they’re excited to see Circles build something that “gets everyone in the world into a forum.” (I’ve noticed that’s how they describe what we’re doing when they talk about our work to friends and colleagues.)
What Are the Differences Between What Circles is Building and a Traditional CEO Forum?
Short answer: cheaper. Longer answer: in some ways, better. Here’s a look inside how we’re reinventing the forum experience.
Circles will be less than 1/10 the $5-15,000/year it costs to participate in a CEO forum. How? First, we’re designing for scale. We replace expensive coaches with purpose-trained guides leveraged with automation. Members don’t need to volunteer and be trained to take on a year-long role as a group “moderator.” But most of all, as David Neeleman described in his strategy to create JetBlue, we aim to give customers what they want and nothing that they do not want. We are not building a network, or running events and in-person universities, or arranging special member discounts from service providers like Fedex. Many CEO’s see a forum as the biggest part of the value they get from YPO or EO, but there’s no “forum-only” plan. Plus, we’re not building a prestige club for CEOs or founders: the Circles platform will serve many types of people.
One of the first things we researched and tested was whether a circle could produce deep, engaging experiences over video. It did! It even worked in our buggy video room prototypes. Not everyone can take the better part of a day out of the office every month, plus one trip a year, like a typical forum experience. Forums over video are a lot more convenient.
But it’s true that in-person forums really are exceptional. Everyone with the time, money and proximity to a group should join one. But Circles is not just stopping at being a 10x cheaper and easier version of a forum. In some dimensions, we’re going to be better and here’s how:
Almost every forum I know of is comprised of new members that randomly walked in the door of their local chapter around the same time. With the constraint of geography removed, we can sort deliberately. We can carefully balance forums for peer level, maximum diversity, and interests. With scale, social media, and a little data science … shouldn’t we be able to exceed “random?”
While studying the ideas behind “learning to learn”, I realized there’s something not so great about my CEO forum experience: there’s little follow-up – forums identify and explore the most urgent challenges at the time of the meeting. But they lack the structured repetition required to rewire your brain. You need practice. For all that I’ve gained in my other forum with YPO, just like most classes I’ve taken or books I’ve read, I’ve lost much more because of the lack of a continued focus. Circles contains a structure to help maintain a focus on a particular topic for many weeks, and then go back to it just when the learning would otherwise fade. This structure keeps members looking out for and sharing relevant content and ideas. It allows us to curate and serve up relevant material across each circle. Shared issues of any cohort tend to be multiple-choice and not as unique as the members might expect. This insight allows us to track and help participants in a circle with the most common challenges that occur in any group.
Group chat wasn’t around when YPO started in 1950. In my life, “circles” have formed naturally on WhatsApp, Facebook and Slack. These group chats have become an amazing place to stay connected with each other, and share content, challenges, and ideas. Of course, CEO forums can and do establish their own group chats. But we are creating and intentionally fostering a group chat environment to use this tool as an important connective tissue for a circle, between meetings.
In general, our digital platform enables powerful features. One example is timers – something important to ensure “equal air time” during meetings. We can also store secure recordings that can be reviewed at 1.5x speed when you miss a meeting. We’ll track issues, challenges, goals, and follow-up. We can remove some of the friction that comes up during in-person forums: Who presented last time? What’s the agenda? When is our next meeting? We can securely preserve and make accessible important information that even close forum-mates sometimes forget (what’s his kid’s ages again?) We can also automatically analyze forum performance and intervene if necessary. We can use audio and video to help enhance the meeting experience creatively. Circles is new, so I don’t know which features will have power and which won’t, but it is going to be interesting continuing to experiment.
How Do You Explain Forum To Someone Who Hasn’t Experienced It?
It’s not easy explaining the forum experience to someone who has never tried it. This Q&A on Quora and Peer Resources’ guide are good places to start. You could also read Mo Fathelbab and Leon Shapiro’s books mentioned above. Circles is just one of many participants, along with forum-based organizations like EO and YPO, plus other groups like Lean In, Action Learning, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Aspen Global Leadership Network, AA and Benjamin Franklin’s Junto (See more examples we’ve collected here.) We’ve chosen the massively broad term “circles” to align ourselves simply with a widespread, growing movement and to embrace its many variations. A big part of our approach revolves around one sentence: “We learn better in circles than in rows.”
To sum this up: I love forum.
I want to make it 10x cheaper, 10x easier and 10x better so that it can become accessible to 1,000x the people.
In a world of physical distance, circles facilitate authentic human connection.
In a circle, 3-12 participants contribute equally, share openly, and push each other to act.
We spent years with academics and practitioners, honing best practices and building a technology platform. Our circles have helped scale peer learning, sustain manager and leadership development, move live training online, onboard new employees, support career development, teach collaboration, and build community.
We’ve been grateful for the support and the referrals from our large corporate partners, schools, and communities who have been hiring us to help design, facilitate and manage Circles programs.
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