What happened in our first Circle of Curious Complexity

I’m holding a regular space for a thing I’m calling a Circle of Curious Complexity for interdependent leaders and deep thinkers to get together, hang out and get support each other. Even though I had some trepidation, the first one happened a few weeks ago and it was, well, pretty bloody great.

There is a Circle meetup once a month and a Circle supper.

For the first meetup, four of us… met up in my lounge to hang out and do a thing.

We started with M&S ready meals (I know how to treat you proper) then checked in with a colour for our mood (thanks Suriya!) and why we’d wanted to come.

Then we experimented with a process I’ve been meaning to experiment with from The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures.

The Process

Basically, the… client?… has a thing they could do with more time exploring. Could be a problem, but also could be an opportunity, a situation, a challenge, a thing.

They talk about it for two or three minutes. People in the coach role can ask clarifying questions.

Then the client sits in silence whilst for ten minutes coaches just ask whatever questions they can think of that might be helpful.

The client goes on to reflect back what their experience was, and what changed.

First go

Well. The first person tried it and it was really strange. They said it was hard to have a smart question that made them think deeply followed swiftly by another one. Then another one. Then another.

As question-asker, I think we had all felt it too.

Here’s the bit that made it magic

We then moved into a mode of thinking ‘What could make this work?’

Would it be better if we recorded our questions for you to listen to afterwards?
Would it be better if we recorded the questions and you were OUT OF THE ROOM?
Would it be better if you signalled when you were ready for a new question?
What about if we wrote down the questions?

That become the next iteration.

The client described their situation, took clarifying questions, then in silence we wrote down our more probing questions on index cards and put them near the client. When they were ready, they picked them up one by one.

This worked really well. There was no pressure on the question-asker or the question-receiver. Plus no worry about forgetting a question as you knew you were going to walk away with all the questions literally in your hand.

Then we added in an extra step with the next person - as we came to the end of the allotted time, someone asked ‘What’s the one question you’re censoring yourself from asking? Write it down.’

We realised that 10 minutes was actually way more time than was needed. Six minutes was plenty.

After everyone had been a client we reflected on the whole process

We talked about how useful it was to hear the reflections from the client after they’d received the questions - that we would like the option to ask one more question.

Someone said, ‘Well, the thing that I’m missing is… you’re smart people. I don’t just want your questions. I kind of want your advice too.’

New format for getting help with A Thing

We suggested next time we would do:

* Client describes their situation (1-3 mins)

* Coaches ask clarifying questions (1 min)

* Coaches write down questions on index cards (6 mins)

* Client reflects back what has shifted/what was useful (1 min)

* (Optional) Client can ask for one piece of feedback or one more question from each coach - written or spoken (3 mins)

Total of 15 minutes of, like, incredibly helpful intervention.

My experience

My partners are going to be away for a few weeks at a time, several times a year and I asked about how I could make that time positive and nourishing, rather than something I just endure (or feel like I waste).

The questions were WILDLY helpful. So many things I hadn’t thought of.

This whole experience really demonstrated the beauty of the Circle

Not only was the intervention deep and light, but also the form was held lightly and we experimented and iterated on the fly. It was fun and emotional and engaging every minute of the two hours.

This won’t be the format of every Circle meetup but maybe once a quarter?


If you’re in Brum here’s a description of the whole Circle concept


If you’d like to come to the next meetup on Tuesday 4th December here’s the link


Feel free to share with other human-and-humane leaders/deep thinkers who might want a some warm company.