Some rough notes on running learning circles.

January 18, 2020. Filed under management 106

I’m experimenting with putting together a couple of learning circles, and someone who wants to run a similar program within their company reached out for advice on structuring groups for success. I’ve organized a couple and participated in a couple others, but honestly I don’t think I have a great handle on best practices here, but I’ll jot down what I’ve learned nonetheless as a reusable, referenceable artifact.

  1. Groups require maintenance and attention to succeed, this means having an explicit, engaged coordinator who feels responsible for the groups success (as well as making the call whether to disband a group if engagement wanes)
  2. Establish a code of conduct and participation, especially if the group is not operating within an existing community (e.g. you work for the same company). This is for both things like Chatham House Rule for not sharing private examples, but more importantly general conduct to ensure folks feel respected, safe and comfortable
  3. Same as a paper reading group, most learning circles are going to fade out over time. You’ll have met some interesting people, learned from each other, and it may be going really well, but folks’ schedules and priorities usually change too much over a year to maintain a permanent group. Design for this! For example, you could reseed groups every year with new members
  4. Participants who don’t “share the mic” kill groups faster than anything else, and the only solution I’ve found is having a moderator who understands their success is defined by getting as many people involved as possible, not by inserting themselves
  5. I recommend asking folks to bring a problem with them for discussion topics. This will ensure discussion is relevant and useful for participants. Alternatively you can share a topic for folks to discuss before, although I’ve personally found that themes lead to slightly more generic discussion
  6. You want about four to six people to show up to have a good conversation. If you have more people, it’s hard to have a good discussion (I’d recommend splitting into two groups), if you have fewer it can get stale
  7. You want continuity of folks showing up to build some trust and rapport
  8. Folks will never do their homework. If you give them a reading or project to do, they won’t do it. If you want people to be prepared, you can try to do it at the beginning, but some folks will always run late, so honestly I think you have to work within the constraints of a discussion group rather than a study group. As an alternative, you can totally have one person read something and share a summary, as opposed to the full group. Also, absolutely no judgement for folks who don’t do their homework, people are living busy lives out there

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll learn a bunch more as I do more of these.