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How to Run Your Circle
Circles come in all shapes and sizes. To get the most out of your group, we recommend eight to twelve members (a good size to make sure everyone gets heard) at similar stages in life (because peers are more likely to have shared experiences).
A Circle can be a monthly roundtable at someone’s home, a brown-bag lunch series at work, or even a virtual meet-up with people from around the world. The important thing is that you get together regularly and everyone participates actively.
We also encourage you to stick with it: Circles that meet for more than six months report higher satisfaction, and many Circles stay together—and support one another—for years.
Your circle, your way
While there’s no right or wrong way to run a Circle, Lean In has a few recommendations to set you up for success.
1Review shared values
It’s helpful for Circles to have shared values so members know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from everyone else. Based on the recommendations of several experts in group dynamics and our own research into what makes small groups work, we’ve developed what we call our Circle Fundamentals:
- Confidentiality: Trust is critical. What happens in your Circle should stay in your Circle.
- Communication: Commit to share openly and honestly—and to listen with empathy.
- Commitment: Everyone should be invested in your Circle’s success and be fully present at meetings.
I like using the Circles Fundamentals as anchoring items and ‘rules of engagement.’
They create an environment that is safe for everyone.Anna Dapelo-Garcia
Circle Leader, Lean In Latinas
2Set shared goals for your Circle
Shared goals will help your Circle choose relevant topics for discussion, measure the success of your meetings, and stay on track as a group. One easy way to establish shared goals is to have each member write down her top three personal goals and then identify the most common answers across your group.
We started off by inviting our own friends and friends of friends to our meetings. Slowly, once people saw what we were doing with our Circle, they wanted to be part of it.Abir Abdul Rahim and Sarah Chen
Circle Leaders, Lean In Malaysia
Spotlight: Letitia Clark, Lean In Orange County
In 2012, Letitia leaned in to her passion for public service through Emerge California, a training program for women who want to run for public office. When the program ended, Letitia started Lean In Orange County to share what she had learned with her peers. In 2016, her Circle inspired her to run for a seat on the Tustin City Council— and she won!
3Decide on a moderator approach
Circle meetings run best when a moderator plans the agenda and guides the discussion. Being a moderator takes work, but we also hear from moderators that it’s deeply rewarding and it helps them build—and get recognized for—their leadership skills. We’ve seen Circles approach moderation in a few different ways, and they all work:
- A single moderator runs meetings for a set period of time.
- One Circle member plans meetings and another member facilitates meeting discussions
- Everyone takes turns running meetings
I’m such an introvert, but being a Circle moderator has made things totally different for me.
It has definitely helped build my confidence. Now I can actually say that I’m a leader. I wasn’t convinced of that before.Julene Allen
Circle Leader, Lean In Ohio
Running Circle Meetings
At Circle meetings, members come together to learn and grow. Many Circles alternate between meetings focused on creating personal connections and meetings focused on learning new skills.
We offer a range of materials to help run Circle meetings at our Education and Meeting Guide pages. You can also design your own meetings around your Circle’s interests. For example, you can come together to discuss shared opportunities and challenges or use expert articles or online talks as a starting point for discussion.
Lean In’s Picks for Meeting Materials
Here are our favorite materials to help you connect with one another and build new skills together:
Connecting with one another
This series of New York Times op-eds by LeanIn.Org founder Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton professor Adam Grant are great conversation starters:
Building new skills together
These Ted talks introduce valuable ideas and skills, and the transcripts and subtitles can be translated into multiple languages:
Whether you’re using materials provided by us or forging your own path, we recommend that all meetings generally follow this structure:
Kick off each meeting with an icebreaker or by sharing a personal update since your last meeting. Here are some ideas to get your members talking if they’re feeling shy:
- Think through the best and/or worst thing that’s happened in your work or personal life since the last meeting
- Explain what you’re most looking forward to or most dreading in the coming month
- Complete a sentence like “Today I’m feeling __________” or “I most want to talk about __________”
2Group discussion or activity
Circles harness the experiences and ideas of all their members. When planning each meeting, you can choose to focus on sharing personal stories, developing new skills by discussing articles or videos, or learning from the expertise of a guest speaker.
Connection activities help us build a powerful community of people wanting to help each other. When one of our members was struggling to find a job, for example, our Circle jumped in to help with interview prep and to make introductions.Nuala Murphy
Circle Leader, Lean In Belfast
Close meetings by committing to a One Action, one concrete thing you’ll do to step outside your comfort zone or practice a new skill before your Circle’s next meeting. Think of your One Action as the little push you need to go for it—and be sure to share it with your Circle.
After a skills-building meeting on Centered Leadership, everyone shared a One Action based on what personal strength they would focus on before our next meeting.Krystal-Elaine Long
Circle Leader, Happiness is Success
Before you break, make sure you have the basics covered for your next meeting and end on an inspirational note. Try going around one by one and describe how you’re feeling in three words. Best we’ve heard so far: “Ready for anything!”