Shared Leadership with Circles

Part of Sociocracy Resources

By Renee Ruchotzke

How might we create communities where each member can contribute equitably in service of mission and vision? Circles are an ancient tried-and-true practice.

Intro to Circles Transcript (TXT)

Introduction to Circles


Where do you already use circles in congregational life?

Transcript Safe Enough to Try (RTF)

Good Enough for Now, Safe Enough to Try

"There are no failures, only lessons." -adrienne maree brown

Discernment Circle Steps

  1. Create a shared understanding of the situation (context and/or challenge).
    • Share in rounds until a common understanding, picture or narrative is reached
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to work from that shared understanding
  2. Collect ideas for how to address the situation.
    • In rounds, have each person propose ideas
    • Continuing in rounds, affirm ideas that are "good enough for now & safe enough to try"
    • Organize proposals and ideas
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to the final list of ideas.
  3. Have a smaller group of "shapers" or "tuners" to turn the final list of ideas into a proposal.
  4. The shapers bring the proposal back to the circle for consideration.
    • In rounds, the circle evaluates the proposal for completeness, i.e. does it include all of the proposed elements from the earlier circle.
    • Establish that the proposal is complete using a consent round. If it is not complete, the shapers will need to rework the proposal and bring it back.
    • If the proposal is complete, go around the circle for clarifying questions about the proposal until all clarifying questions are answered.
    • At this point use rounds to share reactions to the proposal and/or to raise objections with open-heartedness and in service of the mission of the circle and congregation.
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to the proposal.
  5. Carry out the proposal (Take action!).
  6. Celebrate!
  7. Using rounds, evaluate the actions and impacts of the proposal as carried out.
    • Did we gain any insights about the situation?
    • What went well and should be kept?
    • What didn't go well and should be changed?
    • Proposed tweaks to original proposal (or to start over with a new proposal process)
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to the revised proposal (or other agreed-upon action).

Water with concentric waves reflecting clouds

Are You Interested in Going Deeper?

Learn how to use discernment circle practices for complex decisions in your committees and teams.

Take our Discernment Circle Training ($15)

(Note: You will redirected to a separate website, UU Institute, which is managed by the UUA.)

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .