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Circle-Up for Better Teamwork

"Great workplaces are about much more than pay and benefits, or promotion opportunities, or even fundamental needs like safety. They are about making the lives of their employees, customers, and communities better. They have cultures that inspire people."

Making Work Human: How Human-Centered Companies Are Changing the Future of Work and the World

Whenever I talk to team members, coaches, and leaders about some of the challenges they are facing, one of the most common challenges is communication. Whether the gap is top-down or bottom-up, communication is a common opportunity for growth in most teams.

One way to attack and solve the communication gaps or needs your team might be facing is a process or activity called Circles. A Circle is a process that allows you to have a conversation about anything. You can use a Circle as a relationship-building tool, as a way to give and receive feedback, or as an opportunity to check in with your team members.

The Circle process is simple. You gather your team members in a Circle (they can be sitting or standing) you ask them a question, and you allow everyone the opportunity to share. I have three simple guidelines:

1 - Ask a question

2 - Go in a Circle so everyone has an opportunity to share

3 - Everyone can skip or pass if they need to

4 - What happens in the Circle, stays in the Circle

Harvard Leadership and Professional Management professor and author Amy Edmondson says, "When people believe they can speak up at work, the learning, innovation, and performance of their organizations is greater."

Circles help create an environment that allows people to speak up in a safe space.


There are different ways to use Circles. It is a versatile tool that helps amplify the voices in the room. The real value of a Circle is that it allows everyone to share their thoughts and opinions. In a Circle, no one is bigger than the group.


Research shows that finding time to talk about non-team or work-related issues can help drive engagement and performance. When you get to know the people you lead or work with on a personal level, you can create an environment where they can thrive and do their best work.

It is not a bad idea to start each week, day, or meeting with a relationship-building Circle. You can ask icebreaker-type questions like:

1 - If someone said to you, "Pack your bags, I'm taking you anywhere in the world you want to go," where would you go?

2 - What is the best meal you have ever eaten?

3 - Would you rather spend a week on a beach, in the mountains, or in a big city?

4 - If you had $10,000 but you could only spend it in one store, which store would you choose? 5 - If you were in a $20,000 karaoke competition, what song would you sing?

The purpose of relationship-building circles is to connect deeper with the people around you.


Pre-Game Circles are something you might do at the start of the week or before a big game, big project, or new activation. The purpose of a Pre-Game Circle is to make sure everyone is on the same page before getting started and to proactively address any thoughts, questions, or concerns a team member might still have.

Here are some examples of Pre-Game Circle questions:

1 - How do you feel about _____?

2 - What are you most excited about?

3 - What is one thing you are confident or feel good about?

4 - What is one thought, question, or concern you have?

5 - What is something we might not have thought of or something we need to be ready for?


In-Game Circles are something you might do in the middle of the week, game, project, or activation. The purpose of the In-Game Circle is to check progress and check on your teammates to make sure they are doing okay. It can also help the team diagnose problems, problem-solve, and make adjustments in real time instead of having to wait until the end of the week, game, project, or activation.

Here are some examples of In-Game Circle questions:

1 - How do you feel about _____?

2 - What are we doing well? 3 - What are we struggling with?

4 - What could we be doing better or differently? 5 - What more do we need to know?


Post-Game Circles give us the opportunity to connect and reflect at the end of the week, game, project, or activation. It gives us the time to think about what we did well and where we can improve. Daniel Coyle, the author of The Culture Code and someone who has studied the best cultures in the world says the SEALs team performs After-Action-Reviews (a quick huddle) after every event to create awareness census wound three questions: what went well, what didn’t, and what the group should do differently next time. When faced with problems, our normal instinct is often to do more faster, but pressing pause and taking the time to stop and reflect might be the best way to determine the next steps.

Here are some examples of Post-Game Circle questions:

1 - How do you feel about _____?

2 - What went well?

3 - What didn't go well?

4 - What should we do differently next time?

Circles can be small additions to the beginning, middle, or end of any team meetings or huddles you currently do. The purpose of Circles is to allow everyone to share their thoughts, questions, concerns, or feedback. This can help you build better relationships and connections with each team member, and it can help them feel heard, valued, and appreciated.

Circles can be a valuable feedback tool, and they can help your teammates talk about areas of growth and areas in which they might need help.

This week, try a Circle with your team! Ask a question, give everyone the opportunity to share, and learn and grow together.

For a PDF version of this post, click here: Circle-Up

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