Shift happens!

The best way to understand what happens in a ‘shift circle’ is to experience one. However, when people ask me to describe what goes on, I usually start by explaining that a ‘shift circle’ is a group of people who support one another to make a difference in whatever field they work or in whatever project they are working on. Lots of people have some experience of coaching these days. Well a shift circle is like having six coaches working with you – all in one sitting!


There are three roles: contributor, supporter and facilitator.

The first job of the facilitator is to bring together a group of seven or eight people who are ready to support one another to succeed in their own individual projects. Although each circle initially comes together for five or six meetings – groups often end up working together for much longer, sometimes to work on a local project of common interest. One circle session might last between 1-3hrs depending the number of people.

At the start of each session the facilitator will establish who has a project to work on and allocate time accordingly. Although the meetings are very informal, there is a clear process that helps everyone get the most out of the interactions. Contributors are, in turn, helped to explore the nature of their project or challenge, imagine the best possible outcome, design steps that are most likely to move them towards that outcome and given opportunity to rehearse actual behaviours they will need to employ.

The group become supporters of this process to help the contributor to make real progress on their project. One of the strengths of the process is that, because the supporters have no ‘vested’ interest in the problem, they can provide insights, challenges and inspiration from a ‘naïve’ viewpoint that add real value to the contributor.

The process sounds, and is, relatively simplistic, but its depth lies in the listening and questioning techniques employed by the supporters. One of the key tasks for the facilitator is to help the circle members develop these skills. The facilator will achieve this by modelling these skills and periodically pausing the session to focus directly on them. Circle members often comment that they have learned as much being a supporter as they have from being a contributor.

Circle members benefit by:

Engaging with different ideas, approaches and perspectives offered as way to make progress on their own or others projects.

Developing their own questioning and listening techniques. Circle members often comment that they have used these techniques to become far more effective at problem solving, delegation, people management etc. back in their workplaces or communities.

The benefits for organisations include:

  • Increased capacity for managing complex projects and effective problem solving
  • Transformational and sustainable development of individuals and groups
  • Improved capabilities in areas such as performance management, developing others and communication.

What’s not to like! If you’d like to know more or try out a shift circle contact us at people-circle-influence