“I have seen there is no more powerful way to initiate significant change than to convene a conversation… It is always like this. Real change begins with the simple act of people talking about what they care about.”
– Margaret Wheatley
As Margaret Wheatley says here, starting a conversation is the most powerful means we have for bringing about significant change. Groups may miss the mark, though, when it comes to structuring conversations in a way that each person feels truly heard and valued. When people are given a voice in the process, their resistance to change diminishes, and they begin to see themselves as a vital part of the solution.
As culture changers, we have Action Pact to thank for the gift of the Learning Circle, as an exceptional approach to engaging all stakeholders in effecting change. The simplicity of the tool can lead people to discount its effectiveness. Don’t be fooled, though, as its simplicity is the very thing that makes it so powerful.
As Westerners, we are not conditioned to be deep listeners. It takes time and a commitment to lead by example to shift our cultural tendency to speak first and listen later. In a society that typically talks fast and moves fast, the quieter, more timid personalities can get lost in the shuffle. As change agents, we know that each voice is a precious resource, and Learning Circles create a safe space to draw them out. Follow the Learning Circle Guidelines carefully and discover untapped potential you didn’t know you had.
What leaders need to remember is that Learning Circles are not lip service. You need to be prepared to take what is learned from these powerful conversations and empower your teams to put it into action. Employee care partners learn very quickly whether leadership is truly committed to creating a participatory environment or not. Break their trust, and you derail their belief in the change process. Don’t just talk; walk that talk.
Learning Circles are integral to any phase of a change initiative, but they can be particularly powerful as teams embark on their culture change journey. They create a strong foundation for building the collaborative culture that person-directed care requires to thrive. Leaders can’t just tell teams how they are going to change. To be successful, teams need to make change their own. Learning Circles provide the ideal container for this vital sense of ownership to grow. Skip them, and you stunt that growth.
Consider any of these Learning Circle questions to get started, or come up with your own:
- What does mean to be care partners to one another?
- Is our organizational culture warm and affirming?
- Does our organizational culture build on strengths?
- Are we creating a truly collaborative environment?
- Focus on one particular Eden Alternative Principle at a time and during the discussion portion, explore how folks would like to see that Principle come to life in your organization.
 The Learning Circle, Copyright 2001, Action Pact, Inc. Permission to reprint for use by The Eden Alternative.