What’s the best practice ? Is it better to have a free for all discussion, do what we do, or have complete rounds?
“Better” is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding what rounds or discussion can do is a “better” question.
Rounds are excellent for establishing and reestablishing equivalence in the room. They not only give each person a chance to speak they shine a spotlight on each person so everyone is aware of everyone else individually. It changes the dynamic from “in a meeting making a decision” to “in a meeting with Ann, Alice, Joe, Jan, etc. making a decision.”
Rounds are a very important method for establishing and maintaining equivalence.
Discussion allows a focus on a specific point by a smaller number of people who either have more information, have the verbal ability to express the issues, or have similar concerns. It is important for everyone to hear this. Just like consent and objections belong to everyone, so do the thoughts that lead up to them. Discussions allow focus.
Discussion is important to focusing and clarifying issues.
“Free for all” is also in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes “talk among yourselves” is an important exercise. Chaos gets everyone involved and enlivens the room. The bits with the most energy will float to the top. If a facilitator listens carefully, they can also identify “hot” issues and possible solutions.
When there is too much energy, boxing people into a round may not help move the decision-making process along. Particularly in larger groups, rounds can be too repetitive and limiting. People fall asleep or otherwise disengage. If energy is high, instead of quieting down, people might fidget and leave in one way or the other. Frustrated people tend to quit.
Rounds or Discussion, and Free for All
So rounds or discussion, and even free for all, can be well used in circle meetings to produce a satisfying proposal and reach consent.
(Some people prefer to call discussion “dialogue.” I find the word dialogue to be more formal and more often refers to two people engaged in a philosophical debate or the lines recited by actors in a drama . Discussion is more familiar, and perhaps more precise.)