I’m overdue for a Circl.es update.
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.