In our monthly community meeting we discuss and make decisions. We are a circle consisting of all residents, often 20-30 people are present. This means that the rounds often take more time than a lot have the patience for.
Possibly we could break down into smaller groups, just as it is presented on the courses and workshop as some of us have attended. But it gives some other challenges regarded the dual link and the number of meetings.
As you have probably discovered, doing rounds is a very important activity. Doing rounds ensures that everyone is able to function as an equal, has an opportunity to state any concerns or objections, and to contribute information. Rounds also focus members on their purpose as a group, on their shared vision, mission, and aim.
Rounds Form and Re-Form
Each time the group meets, whether a policy setting circle, a team, or a committee, each member will be a different person. They will have had more and different experiences. Knowing what is foremost at the moment brings individuals together and prepares them for collaborative planning and decision-making.
To make decisions as a group, individuals must form a group. If the group has been working together for a long time, doing rounds will be faster and more focused. The group will be skilled in establishing harmony quickly. While it may take time to reach this stage, harmony will allow the group work in collaboration and fulfill their purpose. Harmony requires understanding.
If rounds are too impersonal or unfocused, attention can wander and the purpose of the round lost. Before beginning a round, state the purpose. You might remind people to
- offer what is uppermost in their minds in relation to the meeting,
- speak in terms of what they are anticipating or need from the meeting. and
- speak personally, not give speeches or announcements, or respond to what others have said.
Avoid stating the focus of the round too restrictively. If people are unsure if what they want to say is the right thing, it will inhibit speaking Sometimes people have had a major event in their lives and need to speak longer or off-topic. This will probably be of concern to the group, and sharing it will enable the person to participate in the rest of the meeting more attentively.
Listening is half the round. Speaking brings out information, but it means nothing if others are not listening. The facilitator should be modeling listening, not leading the round by calling on people and trying to explain or interpret what they have said.
The facilitator is not the focus of a round. Unless the round is being conducted specifically to identify issues to be added to a written list, the facilitator should disappear as much as possible, just giving a nod if it is unclear who should speak next.
Not listening, assuming you know what someone is going to say, is probably the number one reason for boredom and impatience when doing rounds.
A Round of 300 People
Size is not necessarily the cause of inattention and impatience in rounds. Rounds can certainly be too long if they are unfocused and not achieving their purpose. Or the room is too hot or no one can hear. Or the group is so large it doesn’t share a common purpose.
If the purpose of the round is clear and compelling, the size unless obviously physically impractical, can be quite large.
I once read an account of a community meeting conducted on a highly contentious subject. The neighborhood had been in serious conflict for a long time with no resolution in sight, A mediator was called in to seek a resolution and an open meeting was arranged. The first thing the mediator said was that each person in the meeting would have a chance to speak. The conditions were that
- each person had to listen to all the others, and
- no one could leave until everyone had spoken.
There were 300 people in the room. Everyone who wanted to speak, spoke. Everyone listened quietly without interruptions. No one left. It took hours. In the end, because everyone had been listened to and had listened to others, resolution was possible. They had come together as a group in a shared experience.
I have lost the reference for this story because I read about it many years ago and before I had heard the word “rounds.” I would love to have the reference if anyone recognizes the story. It was probably in the mediation literature because I was doing work with an AFL-CIO-affiliated union at the time.