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Community of Practice Monthly Meetings — A Simple Design for Meeting in Circle

Many people that I know through Art of Hosting trainings (participants) are very hungry to be in regular contact with each other. Five – six years ago, that hunger was fulfilled through periodic phone calls, or list-serves, or other form of electronic connection. People lived in different geographic regions of the country, continent, and world. More currently, the pattern has been groups of people able to meet face-to-face locally. Eighty-five per cent of participants tend to be local. Local learning communities are forming to support each other in their projects. Many are carrying forward their learnings from the Art of Hosting, growing the more loose association of a network into a deliberate community of applied practice.

This is all good news. Yet, I’ve noticed that many people are wondering what form to meet in. What design. Sometimes it seems that the broad experience of three days together blurs the clarity of what to do with each other when there is two hours to meet. How can we do all of that in two hours!

Here is a format I’ve been recommending that has been helpful. With a couple of gratitudes. One to friend and colleague, Kelly McGowan in New York. She and a few other local colleagues offered a starting format for community of practice circles, every month, that were project focussed (their prototype is here). A second gratitude is to Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea of PeerSpirit. They were my first teachers in the process of Circle, with is the best format I know for people to retouch a deep center of purpose together and then ground conversation in practical work and essential learning.

In this case, assuming a group of up to about 12 people meeting for two hours.

Intentions
-a group of colleagues supporting each other in applied practice of hosting methods (and frameworks, and world view) to grounded work
-co-learning (even though each meeting is focussed on one project, the learning often applies to everyone’s current work)
-meet in inquiry, the magic of what is available in the group that isn’t available as an individual

Prework
-a simple and clear invitation so that people can know, and deliberately choose to come, and that offers a synopsis of the project focus for that time

Design
-10 minutes Welcome & Context (sit in circle; rename the project; the project host names the inquiry that is important to them, tells some of the story of why this matters to them)
-20 minutes Checkin (welcome each person to speak a bit personally of how they are, or to share anything that helps them be present; also have each person speak a bit on how they connect to the project focus of the evening)
-45 minutes Deepening (offerings of questions to the project host, open conversation about the issues, responses to the particular help that the project host has requested, relating stories, etc.)
-10 minutes Break
-20 minutes Harvest & Reflective Learnings (pass a talking piece on what each has learned and how it connects to the specifics of the project, as well as the general principles in conversational leadership; reflections from the project host on specific learnings; helps to have someone offer to harvest as they participate to give to the project host; notice together what had particular energy as the group interacted and learned; capture this and make it visible on flipchart that can be photographed and shared with all; this is also a time for offerings — some will offer specific bits of support or collaboration with the project host)
-10 minutes Checkout (have each speak to what they leave with; appreciations, gratitudes)

Of course there are many variations of this that will work. Great. These are a few essentials that just work. And our grounded in the deeper theory and patterns of conversational leadership and hosting conversations. And keep people in their learning and application of what they learn.

This is all something to practice. Have some fun with. To be light with. To be serious with. And, I would say, a way of tending to the work that we know we must do, with boldness, with deliberateness, and with simplicity and clarity.

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