The magic of Circles is that once a group jells, loyalty to each other creates a gravitational force that holds the group together. It reinforces the peer pressure that holds you to goals. This same force pulls learners deeper over time, past the superficialities. Learners become more and more open to discovering new things about themselves and each other. And this desire to stay together has business model advantages.

Daniel Hoffman experienced this a few times. It is amazing. Sometimes it is an obvious, specific moment. Someone cries. When it happened during the Aspen Crown Fellows first seminar, Carl Marci diagnosed it out loud “This is a peak experience, people.” Shirzad Chamine offers a more graduated framework for observing the depth of a forum in his seminal paper, “Transformational Forums.” It will be interesting to assess Circle depth, as well as the more traditional SaaS re-subscription rate.

We’ve collected a list of practices and formulas that move a group towards jelling. Each carries a cost in terms of timed and lost learners. Which are the ones to focus on or ignore? How can we design these into our process for optimal cost/benefit? What is missing from the list?

  1. Shared ordeal
  2. In-person > Video >Voice… In-person starts make a big difference
  3. Velvet rope
  4. A good match
  5. Safety: confidentiality, anonymity, no advice, success with conflicts, not feeling coerced to stay, no managers
  6. Familiarity
  7. Vulnerability is contagious
  8. Shared identity
  9. Skin in the game
  10. You gotta wanna
  11. Ignition
  12. A caring guide
  13. Smaller bonds: a sponsor, bring a friend, start with a triad
  14. Positive shared vision
  15. Wins, like the slowly progressing line at Disney
  16. Anonymity:pulling people from outside
  17. Equal air time
  18. A higher power
  19. Time together, building trust
  20. An addicting experience. Trigger serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine. See the book Hooked by Nir Eyal.
  21. Fans watching, negative consequences for dropping. See Stikk website..

Here’s another take on it from an individual learner’s perspective. (For more about Paul, read his learning journey.)

  1. Paul’s coach at General Assembly recommended Circles to him.
  2. The 30-minute application took an hour. He kept re-shooting his intro video.
  3. He heard that that not everyone gets in, but mentioned two friends he’d like to join.
  4. He got an SMS saying he made the short list.
  5. Paul was asked to rate “what I want to be when I grow up” videos of 10 others also on the short list.
  6. Paul rated his friend Carly highly.
  7. He got another SMS accepting him and listing out the group.
  8. Soon after, he got an email from someone with his same background, encouraging him and offering to help.
  9. He used his own credit card, hoping to be reimbursed by his company later.
  10. Paul reluctantly agreed to share his LinkedIn and Facebook information with the group.After “joining” he was give a few clicks to connect the others on Facebook and LinkedIn, and got summaries of all of them that he was “required” to study.
  11. For the next several days, he was quizzed via SMS on the backgrounds of the members of his Circle, and he was told that there would be consequences for high/low scores.
  12. Suzie, the group’s guide, introduced herself over email. She was a first-time guide, who had done Circles herself for two years.
  13. Paul was asked to meet in person or at least over video with one other member before the meeting started. No agenda was requested.
  14. Circles sent a short confidentiality form explaining “Chatham House Rules.” They could discuss anything from the group with anyone else as long as they didn’t attribute a specific person. The group could decide on a deeper level of confidentiality later.
  15. The day before the first meeting he got a compilation of the 8 “what I wanna be” videos from everyone in the circle. It took 4 minutes to watch all the videos.
  16. The night before the first meeting, Paul was asked to bring three things he would grab from home as if he were fleeing an apocalyptic event.
  17. The first meeting was in person.
  18. Music was playing at the start, end and breaks of the live (and later virtual) meetings. (Guides were provided with a couple Circles’ curated playlists. In later versions of the product, enterprising guides might be able to choose the music.)
  19. Susie, the guide did very little talking. She offered to help the group, but did not direct much. She took some questions back to get answers.
  20. The process felt a little awkward, but everyone spoke for the same amount of time.
  21. At one moment, Susie did offer a very moving story about getting fired.
  22. They spent two of the hours sharing each other’s life stories in an exercise.
  23. The first exploration was surprisingly intense.
  24. After the first meeting, they received a link asking if they wanted to drop now.
  25. At the end of the kickoff, they named the group, “The Jets.”
  26. Suzie called them all afterwards to check in and ask for feedback.
  27. Within a week they were encouraged to ask each otherfor help with one small work problem over chat. Everyone connected.

What Do You Think?

  • What are the most powerful moves to get a Circle to jell?
  • What are we missing?
  • What can we skip?
  • How can we engineer some conflict so the group can begin to build its comfort with conflict?

Share your comments and feedback over on  this blog post.

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