Facilitate a Circle

Posted January 24, 2010 in Blog

If you have experience leading small groups, you can facilitate a Resilience Circle. You don’t have to be an “expert” in the economy, the environment, or anything else. Below are notes on how to facilitate a Circle.

Keep in mind:

  • Visit the section on Organizing a Circle for guidance on getting a circle together: finding participants, space, publicizing, etc.
  • The Resilience Circle Network has developed a Six-Hour Training Workshop for Facilitators. It’s not necessary to attend a training, but we promise you will enjoy it if you do. Contact us to receive a copy of the training agenda, or to discuss arranging a training in your area.

Watch the video below or read on for facilitation tips. Or click to read about Developing Participant Leadership or the User’s Guide to the Curriculum.

Facilitating a Resilience Circle

There is no set way to use the Facilitator’s Guide. Many groups choose to follow it step by step, others adapt it around the edges, and still others pull out and use just a few pieces. We provide this Guide in Microsoft Word in addition to PDF format so you can easily revise it to meet the specific needs of your circle.

However you use the Guide, we encourage you to consider the following as you lead group sessions:

  • Be sure to provide a safe space to talk that feels both comfortable and contained.
  • Ask people to “step up and step back.” Quiet folks should be invited to share more than they might normally; talkative folks should not be allowed to dominate the group or preach long sermons.
  • Invite people to participate with their whole selves, including mind, heart, and body. We include one activity per session which invites folks to stand up and move around.
  • We believe circles should expose people to new ideas, and they should also inspire real-world group activities like mutual aid and/or social action.

The Role of the Facilitator: Facilitation Tips

Here’s what your group will expect you, as facilitator, to do.

  • Bring to each session a clear idea of what the group is to do during that time, along with any materials needed, and guide the group through the planned activities.
  • Protect the shared space of the group: create a welcoming atmosphere for everyone, while being willing to intervene if someone is acting in a way that creates difficulty for others.
  • Assist the group in reaching decisions about important issues that emerge over time.
  • Help the group balance participation among members, encouraging participation from those who hold back, while making sure that those who speak easily do not dominate the group (see Balancing Group Participation below).
  • Help members of the group move into active leadership roles over time, eventually “retiring” yourself as the main facilitator (see Developing Participant Leadership below).

There are other important tasks needed to keep the group working well. You can add them to your job description as facilitator, or someone else can take them on as an “organizer”:

  • Create an accurate contact list for the group and make sure everyone has a copy.
  • Send out homework and meeting reminders.
  • Track who is missing from group sessions and follow up with them.
  • Handle any logistics related to the meeting space.
  • Coordinate food, such as potlucks or snacks, for the sessions.

Balancing Group Participation

For a group of people who don’t know each other well to grow into a circle of people who trust and care for one another, there needs to be space for each person to feel seen and heard over time. In structured sessions like those suggested in this curriculum, this requires figuring out ways to keep conversations within the group focused and balanced. Here’s a short list of tools that a facilitator can use to help make that happen.

  1. Use a Wristwatch During Go-rounds. In a “go-round” each person in the circle is given a turn to speak, though anyone may pass at any time. Be aware of a common phenomenon in go-rounds: individual sharings tend to get longer as the circle progresses. As a result, open-ended go-rounds can get quite lengthy.  A relevant tool here is to suggest a time limit for each person. This curriculum includes a go-round in the Opening of each session, which we suggest last for 20 minutes. You might allow each person about a minute to speak, realizing that some people will go over. To avoid interrupting people with reminders about how much time has passed, the group can agree to pass a wristwatch that follows the speaker. For example, if I am the speaker, the person next to me holds the wristwatch and watches the time for me. When the allotted time is up, s/he quietly passes the watch to me, wordlessly letting me know that it’s time for me to wrap up my sharing. Then it becomes my turn to watch the time for the next speaker.
  2. “Two cents.” This can be used in a group with unbalanced participation, where it’s clear that one or two people are having trouble monitoring the level of their own participation. Here, you can playfully introduce the idea of “sharing your two cents.” At the beginning of the session, everyone receives an equal number of pennies – say, twelve.  Each time someone speaks, they put two pennies into a pot in the center of the circle, literally “putting in their two cents.”  People who tend to over-participate will find themselves thinking twice before deciding to spend their pennies, while those who tend to hold back will find themselves sitting with a little hoard of pennies, representing the value they haven’t yet shared with others. It’s good to be explicit at the start of the meeting about why you are introducing this exercise to the group, and to allow time at the end of the meeting for people to share about what they noticed and how they felt. It’s everyone’s job to create balanced participation in the group, not just the facilitator’s.
  3. Cut-off Summary. Every facilitator is familiar with the scenario: your group has gotten into a discussion of a big topic, one person has been going on for some time about what s/he thinks, and you can feel other people in the room getting restless, like they’ve reached a point of saturation. What to do? Don’t be shy about interrupting – group members are counting on you to do just that. But interrupt with a purpose: “You’ve covered a lot of ground in what you’ve been saying, John. In order for us to have time to hear from a few other people, can you summarize in one sentence the most important point you want us to understand?” And then keep the speaker, with a light hand, to one single sentence. If s/he just can’t seem to do that, ask her/him to sit with their thoughts for a few minutes to clarify what s/he wants to say.
  4. Linking Summary. Another big topic, another long-winded speaker, another feeling that other folks are getting restless. Here’s another way to interrupt: “So John, one of the important things you’ve been talking about is ______.” Once you’ve made this statement, link it to a question for the rest of the group to consider, making it clear that it’s someone else’s turn to respond.
  5. Starting with the Quieter Folks. If a few group members have been dominating the airtime for a while, you can start a new exercise by simply saying, “Let’s hear first from someone who hasn’t spoken in a while.” This helps the over-participators bring their attention back to how much they’re talking, as well as making space for those who haven’t been speaking up.
  6. Small Group Work. Asking people to complete exercises in pairs or in small groups is another way to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, though the whole group doesn’t get the benefit of hearing each person.


Next: Developing Participant Leadership