Powered by Circles

We often talk about our results, namely, how we produce small group experiences with a strong feeling of connection, breakthrough, and high engagement via our platform and method – The Circl.es System.   At this point in our evolution as an organization,  we are pleased to be empowering organizations, communities and schools to leverage what we’ve built to realize impact and engagement by scaling up Circles to connect individuals in meaningful ways. 

For the past few years, we have been delivering small group experiences, combined with service, which we’ve called “managed service” and someday soon, we will offer Circl.es as a software as a service (SaaS) platform for purchase.

Recently, we created “Powered by Circles”, a model with only a bit of hand-holding and a lower price-point. This is a step on our way to creating a more pure SaaS offering, and it has confirmed that clients can benefit from the Circl.es system and platform on their own.

Here are some recent stories:

Jodie McLean, the CEO of EDENS, a progressive, community-oriented real estate development organization, learned about Circl.es at a global digital seminar managed by the Circl.es team. There, she experienced the power of the small group, inclusive circle, and contacted Circl.es for her organization’s one-day Values-based Leadership Summit.  

EDENS’s culture is one based on close relationships, authenticity and inclusion, so it was critical to create an experience – not just a meeting. The vision was for the entire organization to connect in a psychologically safe space to show up for, and care for, each other.

The Circl.es team provided design consultation and administrative training to the EDENS project team. In just a few hours, a group of EDENS employees were equipped to moderate two sessions for 20 circles, engaging 200 employees in all. The Circles experience was rated 8.7/10 and 9.7 for facilitation. EDENS will continue to use the platform for recurring Circles and another organization-wide gathering. They are now empowered to design, facilitate and manage this experience independently. 

Pablo Cerdera, the Director of Restorative Practice at Wharton, experimented with the Circles platform for several months before considering how he might leverage it within his institution. When in-person instruction was cancelled and 600+ new students had to be introduced to one another virtually, he turned to Circl.es. 

While Pablo had a process in mind, Circles Design Lead, Jonathan Hefter, helped him hone it for a virtual experience that would scale. Together, they trained approximately 50 students on the New Student Orientation Team to become Circles facilitators, in one session. The Circles Ops Team helped set up smooth onboarding and supported the event behind the scenes, proactively heading off issues and fielding only 3 support calls for 600 people. The New Student Orientation Team went on to welcome new Wharton students to their Fall 2020 class in simultaneous Circle sessions, and participants rated the experience 8.69/10, with a 9.72 facilitator score. 

Andy Bailey and his business coaching firm, Petra Coach, has a tradition of running EO-style forums. Andy had a vision of engaging the executives of Petra Coach’s client organizations in forum groups on Circl.es. With 200 companies in their community, they saw a chance to organize forums by executive roles, beyond CEOs. Petra’s coaches are skilled facilitators with their own forum process, but were challenged to imagine a path to scaling up to hundreds of forums. Circl.es gave them a smooth operational process and a way to guarantee consistency and quality of experience. With just a few hours of setup and training, they launched a scalable forum group experience for their clients.

Powered by Circles is a path for an organization looking to acquire the expertise necessary to design, facilitate and manage your own virtual Circles experiences.

Our services focus on three processes that are essential to success:

Design. Powered by Circles starts with a client’s vision for how to run a session. The Circl.es System and design team helps effectively translate that to virtual delivery at scale. They point out how to leverage the best features of the platform. And in the process, transfer some experience and wisdom so clients design future programs on their own. The Circl.es Design Lead shares sample agendas, makes design recommendations based on best practices and passes along valuable expertise to empower the client to design future experiences independently.

Facilitation. The Circl.es Video Space features provide ‘training wheels’ for facilitation.  To scale, very often organizations and communities rely on staff or member facilitators, many of whom are leading in this way for the first time. Powered by Circles includes a Digital Facilitation Handbook, communication templates, delivery of a sample session and a Train-the-Trainer program. While many clients have experienced facilitators or their own process, the Circles System and team helps quickly translate this for virtual, and at scale.

Management.  For several years, the Circl.es Operations Team has been setting up, managing and measuring large implementations of Circles. It takes some work to scale intimacy. Powered by Circles can efficiently train you to use features we’ve built into the platform, and to avoid the many mistakes we’ve made. Still, we’ve noticed that some clients prefer us to handle the logistics and administration of programs so they can focus on design and facilitation, or perhaps their long list of other jobs. Either way is fine; the Circl.es team can continue to provide outsourced support, or transfer this capability to a client team leveraging our platform. 

Ready to try Circl.es in your own organization?

Powered by Circles allows us to get this high quality experience out into the world at a much lower price point. The cost varies according to the number of users/month and services provided – all aimed at empowering organizations to successfully scale human connection, virtually.

The Circl.es Team is excited to take this step toward helping more of the world connect in a meaningful way. If you are interested, we’d love to share our scoping and pricing model in more detail. You can get in touch here.

Connection Without Campus: Circl.es Helps Wharton, Harvard and the Aspen Institute Replace the Irreplaceable

connection without campus

We miss campuses! The smell of crisp fall air, sparkling new school supplies and the smiles of friends we missed all summer. This isn’t just nostalgia; the campus is a powerful setting that energizes learning.

An almost seismic sense of expectation emanates from a college campus. That is the true elixir of youth: the grand, the glorious, the magnificent hopes and dreams because all things – all things – are yet possible.” – Carolyn Hart

We mourn the loss of campuses for our children, but also for our grown-up selves. Some of the best ideas flow from formal offsite gatherings with colleagues, or informal dinners shared with peers.

Bolstered by a true sense of urgency and ingenuity, the instructors at The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School and The Aspen Institute, turned to Circl.es to create an online space that feels as connected as meeting face-to-face. The answer, in part, was a unique virtual setting. But they also did things differently, designing inclusive interactions and using a process for engaging in small groups… circles instead of rows. 

The Wharton School of Business

The Wharton School of Business is one of the nation’s top business programs. With 600+ incoming freshmen, they needed a way to welcome and orient new students that felt as genuine as the on-campus experience.  

Circl.es is a system to create intentional, inclusive and authentic dialogue.  Wharton’s goal was to instill a sense of belonging and connection for new students, who would not be able to establish community in an in-person environment. They married restorative practices with Circl.es technology to run 54 small group sessions in one day, welcoming approximately 600 new students and fostering a sense of community among them, even without setting foot on campus.

Each group was run by a Circl.es-trained facilitator (50+ upperclassmen leaders), with incoming students joining from all over the world. Circl.es gave these students a wonderful opportunity to join others, and find positive connections in a time when they may have been feeling vulnerable and unsure. As one student put it…

“It was my first encounter with my cohort leaders and other classmates. It felt great to finally open up and hear what everyone is thinking about the upcoming semester.”

Wharton Circles Participant

Circl.es allowed Wharton students to hold space for each other and engage in restorative practices to support all new students, and ensure their year got off to a great start.  

Harvard Business School

During the Owner/President Management (OPM) program at Harvard Business School, top executives look to expand their business knowledge, leadership skills and the overall value of their companies. Building peer relationships is a central part of the value proposition. When on campus, the program deliberately houses eight students together in a specially configured “living group.”

Living groups share their most personal experiences, both from business and life, as part of the program, so connection with others is key. HBS didn’t replace this by trying to simulate late-night dorm interactions. Instead, they wove small group work into the online course curriculum. This occurred in pre-program Circles, where students’ connections before beginning their coursework provided a ‘running start’ to their OPM experience. 

Once the program was underway, Circles provided the space for students to engage in case prep work, small group breakout sessions, pitch/innovation competitions and project work in a way that organically strengthened these connections. The space even provided opportunity for the more informal & social aspects of the experience. An HBS Circles participant noted that trust was established after just two sessions. It was also said that…

Circles did the job that the bar, dorm and cafe used to do.” – Chad Gordon, OPM Program Lead

By encouraging authentic virtual conversations, Circl.es transformed working sessions into opportunities for real connection and relationship-building. 

The Aspen Institute

The Resnick Aspen Action Forum (RAAF) traditionally took place in Aspen, at one of the most stunning campus settings in the world. Without this asset, the team needed a new approach to ensure the 2020 seminar was as impactful online as it had been in person.

Because Circl.es allows people from all over the world to connect deeply, the seemingly insurmountable drawback of losing their campus actually turned into a benefit for RAAF; more leaders from around the world participated in 2020 than ever before.

One of the event leaders called Circl.es “The Great Equalizer” because people couldn’t see how everyone else arrived. They just logged in. The Circl.es platform provided the space for Aspen’s signature form of text-based dialogue with a cohort of Fellows from around the world.  Over the course of the 3-day event, Fellows joined with their cohort, led by an Aspen Moderator for 90 minutes each day, and found points of connection with like-minded leaders they might have otherwise never encountered.  

Within their Circles, everyone was given an equal voice in the dialogue. In the end, by ensuring inclusion and fostering intentional discussion, the Circles seminars garnered rave reviews, such as… 

Every single member of the group expressed gratitude, value, and a desire to meet again.” – Aspen Circle Participant

Creating Connection

For Wharton, Harvard Business School and the Aspen Institute, losing use of their campuses brought major challenges around delivering the high-quality education for which they are known. By teaming with Circl.es, they discovered a new path: intentional conversations that facilitate inclusive dialogue.

The world has shifted, and we know that we must strive to discover new ways of connecting.  It’s not about a precise replication of the in-person meeting experience. No one can virtually reproduce a cool autumn breeze or the breaking in of new books. However, by keeping their eyes on the essential goal of human connection, these three institutions forged new ground in the Fall of 2020, by delivering world-class instruction with the power of intentional, small group Circles. They found a way to deliver connection without the campus.

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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Make human connections.

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