Tag Archives: rounds

Doing Rounds Takes Too Long

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.

Focusing Rounds

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.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

One of the ways the methods used in sociocracy that speeds up decision-making is going directly to objections instead of or before discussing the advantages of a proposal. The perceived advantages of a decision should be stated in the proposal or its presentation. The presenters will probably recount the issues and options they considered. There is usually no need to repeat the discussion that has taken place in previous meetings or to hear arguments in favor again.

The Process for Making a Decision Effectively

Prequel: Discuss or request comments from everyone who will be affected by the decision. A formal discussion in a  meeting of the circle may be preferable, but is not necessary if there are other ways to collect information and multiple viewpoints.

1. Present the proposal.

2. Answer clarifying questions.

Questions should be clean questions with no embedded messages. If there is an embedded message, don’t discuss it. Answer as if it had been a clean question or defer it for rounds.

4. Do a quick reaction round.

Responses of 1-2 words will indicate if there are concerns or objections that seem serious or unresolvable. Is the proposal ready for consent or should it be referred back to the proposal writers?

5. Ask for concerns and objections in detail.

(a) Refer these back to proposal writer(s) or
(b) Begin consent rounds to resolve them.

Asking for detailed concerns and objections should usually be done in a round but if there are only a few this can done more effectively by asking each person individually.

6. Consent rounds.

Several rounds may be needed to reach consent. The early rounds will suggest resolutions and later rounds to clarify remaining objections.

The decisive question is: “Do you have objections that will influence your ability to support this decision?”


Addressing concerns and resolving objections is a group process, not the duty of the facilitator. The facilitator decides how to proceed but this decision is subject to objections.

The facilitator participates as an equal, including in rounds.

The goal is consent to a decision that everyone can support in day-to-day operations.

Effectiveness, transparency, and accountability are the prime values in this process:

  • What will produce the most effective decision?
  • Does everyone have all the information relevant to this decision
  • Who will be accountable for the outcome of the decision

Rounds may be interspersed with discussion:

  • Rounds establish and maintain equivalence in the room. They keep decision-making balanced by encouraging everyone to participate as equals—the reticent as well as the more expansive.
  • Discussion, free form or dialogue between 2 or more persons, can be helpful to clarify questions or to give information others in the group may not have.

A proposal needs:

  • a person(s) to implement the decision and
  • a method to measure outcomes.

If there is no plan for implementing the decision or means of measuring effectiveness, the decision will probably be meaningless. Not worth the time.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

Moving objections to the beginning of consideration of a proposal instead of considering them at the end of the process moves time and attention to the issues that may not have been considered or that are in opposition to the proposal.

The arguments are then more likely to be presented and examined clearly, not in the context of a back and forth of pros and cons by skilled and unskilled orators. This kind of rhetoric can easily obscure the aim of the proposal and the nature of the objection.

The endpoint of decision-making is an action that works. Consensus decisions, those in which all the objections have been resolved and/or measurements set to test them, work best. They are not always possible but they work best.

Maximum Size for Rounds?

Drop Cap Letter QHow large a group can effectively do rounds?

The recommended maximum size for circles is 20-40 people so that would apply to the optimal maximum size for rounds as well. But rounds have been done in groups of 150 and even 400.

Years ago, before I had heard of “rounds” I read the account of a round with 400 people. A mediator was working to resolve a community issue at a town hall meeting. She said everyone in the room would have a chance to speak. The only condition was that everyone in the room had to stay until everyone else was finished speaking. Everyone spoke and everyone listened. I forget how long it took but it engaged everyone and a solution was found shortly afterwards.

The article didn’t say if there was a time limit, but I’m not in favor of time limits on rounds. If you want to hear from people, you want to hear from them. To say I care about what you feel or think, but I only care for 30 seconds or 2 minutes is a contradictory. The focus becomes the time limit, not the issue. That can freeze up or distort responses. (As you can see from my long posts, an issue is rarely yes or no or one word. Or even 30 seconds.)

In experienced groups, a time limit might not have a hugely negative effect. It usually works to say, “this is a quick round, yes-or-no or one-word responses please.” Then you might get a sentence but not an explanation. Or “we have 30 minutes left for this item, let’s try to do the round in 20 minutes.” 

The optimal maximum group size of rounds is also affected by the experience of  the group. I think doing rounds effectively is learned with practice by each member. The more experienced members the group has the faster rounds will go. (It isn’t up to the facilitator to produce an effective round.)

It helps to remind people not to lecture or present arguments. Stick to expressing what they themselves think or feel about the issue or question presented.

A problem in using examples learned in workshops is that workshops exercises cannot by definition be representative of real-life. People don’t have the investment in issues presented for practice. Particularly in intentional communities and in conflict situations, people will be very invested and emotional. In employment situations, this might not be the case or be so less often.

Rounds or Discussion or Free for All?

Drop Cap Letter QWhat’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.)

Resistance to Rounds

I love rounds. They do many things but the most important to me is that they give everyone a chance to speak without raising their hand and waving it until the facilitator or discussion leader sees it, worrying about their place in the queue rather than listening, or  counting to see if everyone else has had a chance to speak before you can speak again. Rounds place the focus on what is being said, not the process of getting it said.

I like is the way they encourage people to speak who never raise their hand because they have nothing to add. Rounds encourage everyone speak in their own words. At first people may say,”I agree with Harry,” but with practice, almost everyone will move beyond this.

Creating Peacefulness

I like the peacefulness rounds bring to the group as everyone is focused on each speaker. In a round everyone is equal. They establish and re-establish equality in the room. Knowing that everyone will have an equal opportunity relaxes everyone. They become not only relaxed for themselves, but for others.

So why do we resist doing rounds? In my community, we repeatedly ask for them but they rarely happen. Too many people in the room is a big excuse. But with practice, this one could be overcome. Reminding people to say only what is “in their heart” or what is most relevant their decision, shortens the round. Not to pontificate addressing the arguments of  others.


But I wonder if a larger resistance is related to the facilitocracy that develops when groups are develop a dependence on the facilitator. Facilitocracies develop very quickly in full-group consensus models. Without the principles and structure of sociocracy and dynamic governance, the facilitator bears a huge burden in getting proposals passed. Their job becomes developing trust. If they are trusted, the process is easier. Personality holds sway, not arguments. This has its own pitfalls, however, because without a focus on arguments, the personalities of the objectors then also hold sway.

I’m beginning to consider that even more important in resistance to rounds is a facilitator’s desire to avoid shifting power to the group. Once they have developed their skills, which are often considerable, and gained the trust of the group, they want to keep the focus centered on their own facilitation. To control the room.

And to control the arguments.

And given credit for getting the job done.