Do your team take time to get engaged at the start of meetings?

Have you wondered how to get everyone mentally present?

Here red10 ‘s Kirsten Campbell explains how connection circles can help.

Starting a meeting

Think back to the last time you joined a meeting – or indeed any gathering of people known or unknown to you.

You and everyone else had many things on your mind. Maybe an unfinished task you were doing beforehand? Maybe something you were anxious about? You might have been thinking about other people and whether they were friend or foe.

You might be worrying about something you need to share or the value of the meeting.

Connecting as humans

Chances are, everyone is in a different place at the start of the meeting. Before you do anything else, even overviewing meeting aims or agenda, it is good to connect as humans.

Bring on the connection circle!

Starting off a connection circle

Introduce 2 or 3 questions that you would like everyone to answer.

If participants don’t know each other, the first question should be really easy and non-threatening. For example, “What would you like us to call you?”; “What is the story of how you got your name?”

The next question could invite sharing of a current preoccupation that other participants can relate to e.g. “What is the biggest project/issue/opportunity on your plate right now at home/at work?”

The final question could relate to the purpose of the meeting e.g. “What would you like to get out of this meeting/ masterclass?”

Repeat the questions a few times or better yet write them down on a flipchart or in chat to give people time to think.

“What’s On?” is one set of questions you can use in a Connection Circle.

Responding in a connection circle

If you are meeting in person, you will have the luxury of being able to stand-up and move into a circle! If you are virtual, you will have to imagine it!

Explain the system you would like people to use to respond to the questions. One approach we call “popcorn” – people volunteer to respond when they are ready to “pop”. This has the advantage of giving people with Introversion preference time to reflect before they respond. The other we call “pass”. Assign the first responder, then they choose who goes next and so on.

As leader/facilitator, you will need to decide when to make your response. If you want to set an example of the depth of response you are hoping for, go first. Otherwise, go somewhere in the middle – sending the message that you are an equal participant.

Listening in a connection circle

As leader/facilitator, BE the example of how you would like others to behave when they are listening.

Be still, not distracted. Look directly at the speaker in a supportive, encouraging way. This sends the message that they are more important than anything else that might be in your papers or on your computer. Avoid trying to do two things at once – people can tell straight away when you are not giving them your full attention. If you give your full attention to each speaker, it is much more likely that they will reciprocate with their full attention when others speak.

Try not to deviate into further questions (except for the purpose of creating clarity). You need to maintain pace and also send the message that everyone deserves equal airtime.

Concluding a connection circle and starting the meeting

When everyone has responded to the questions, the connection circle is complete. Double check that everyone has spoken; express appreciation for their willingness to contribute and describe something you have valued from the collective response.

By starting the meeting this way, everyone gains insight into the individuals in the room. They have started to unify in this moment and have met each other where they are. Everyone has contributed and had their voice heard, the tone is set – you are ready to go.

Ending the meeting

Why not build in time for another connection circle at the end of the meeting?

Design a question to encourage positive responses e.g. “What is one thing you really valued about today?” This means the meeting ends on an uplifting note and focuses people on constructive outcomes.

Psychologists often refer to this type of question as Appreciative Inquiry.

Give it a try

We would love to hear about your experience with connection circles, especially any questions that you have found valuable.