The Business of Circles

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Improved results rely on people working better together.

But every person has, at some point, felt let down, hurt, had their trust broken, suffered emotional pain or even physical damage at work.

Thinking back to those moments, and those people who we believe let us down, in spite of what happened, if they had owned it, offered an apology without justification and been genuinely remorseful, we might feel differently about them now, even about what happened.

We might also let go the resentment that can get in our way, and instead invest more of ourselves in our role, our team, our leader and our customer.

This is the opportunity of restorative circles.  A space to share what’s real and remove the barriers between people that slow business down.

Circles are a chance to relate with each other as thinking, feeling, emotional beings.  Hear each other’s concerns and fears, feelings of frustration and disappointment.  Acknowledge, without excuse, the hurt or harm caused, the disconnection experienced, and decide together how to move forward.

A culture that uses circles as part of its philosophy communicates to its people that, human to human, everyone is equal, everyone will be heard, everyone is valued and respected.

Circles are powerful healing places, because there is no structure.  No distinction about who is right, deserving, worthy or has the most authority.  A circle is a space for humanity as equals.  Recognition of the goodness and the greatness in everyone.  Restoring the truth that we were all born the same, and innately remain the same, and sometimes we do things that hurt others.

Restorative circles can be used in any setting. In business, in family, in community.  To repair harm, to restore trust, to build connection, to create and align to a new future.

They can be used formally or informally, as a recognised process or an impromptu conversation.

They can be used as a response to something that happened.

Just as powerfully, the principles of restorative circles can be built into a culture as a preventative and innovative tool.

Circles are a way of encouraging ongoing real conversations, where fresh ideas are discovered and explored and interdependent decisions confidently made.  They are a safe space for concerns to be shared and resolutions crafted before they become problems that slow business and visions down.Circles, in this sense, are part of a larger framework called Restorative Practices.

As John Macdonald, MD of Macbey Metal Packaging and Lead Consultant with the Hull Centre for Restorative Practices, shares, “the term ‘Restorative Practices’ (RP) was coined to summarise all the processes originally developed to deal with an event after the fact – to repair harm and bring resolution to victims and offenders in crimes and anti-social behaviour for example.  In this context it is clear what it means – there is something obvious which needs restoring.

However, where RP really comes into its own is in the avoidance of problems arising in the first instance by the realistic and open discussion of issues and needs…”

An organisation that use circles and Restorative Practices as its cultural philosophy communicates to its people that on a human to human level, everyone is equal, everyone will be heard, everyone is valued and respected.

Adopting these practices establishes the foundational values and expectation of the culture as: 1) individual responsibility and accountability, 2) real and courageous conversations and 3) continually moving forward together in positive momentum.

It’s a clear answer to the question
‘What does this organisation stand for?”

In business, restorative practices can help teams move through friction, eliminate time-wasting drama, help people confidently take on more responsibility, support behaviour that aligns to agreed values and as John beautifully shares “fully access the voluntary element of staff participation and contribution.”The RP social discipline window represents “the unifying hypothesis of restorative practices that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive and more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”


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My belief stretches further, in that when anyone, not just those in positions of authority, do things with us, rather than to us or for us, we are positively moved, expanded and uplifted.

“Gallup, Cohen and Prusak, and Best Companies have all produced independent research undertaken in a variety of ways which shows an indisputable correlation between high levels of emotional engagement, high levels of ‘community indicators’ and high levels of performance and productivity” says John Macdonald.

Restorative circles take people on a journey of acknowledging what’s real and then intentionally leaving it behind. Through frustration and anger, confusion and doubt.  Fear, blame and even re integrative shame.  There is no place to hide in a circle, nowhere to back away, no shield to protect.  It is, in itself, an open, continuous, vulnerable space that unravels the façade we work so hard to erect to keep each other out.  A circle lets people in to understand each other and what is needed to move forward.

It is in this sharing of who we really are that people come together…

In alignment, rather than forced agreement.
In compassion for shared humanity, rather than pretence of perfection.
In a genuine desire to create more, rather than turning up out of obligation.

Restorative circles offer a framework rather than a structure, an unconditional welcome rather than a table of hierarchy, a space that, when held with integrity and compassion, offer an alchemic environment that allows the best in people to show up.