In the OSLIST discussion on circles and presence, I added some thoughts, which I thought I’d republish here…
My experience of the circle is first of all, that there has never been a group I have worked with – not business people, airplane engineers, entrepreneurs, government officials, community members – that hasn’t been just fine in a circle. No one has ever asked me not to set the room up a different way, although plenty of people have expressed their doubts that any of it would work.
I’ve also done OST in other formats as well, like lecture halls, semi circles and squares, and they seem to work fine, although it’s definitely ME that is more uncomfortable in those settings. I also think things don’t flow very well in general. It’s harder for people to get to the centre to put their issues up and harder to move around when there is a different geometry.
Still, I think sometimes facilitators might make too big a deal of the circle. We all know why it works, and that’s why we use it – as Harrison and others have said. But to discuss circle energetics, or ancient forms of human communication in the opening of an open space event can be distracting. But it isn’t the circle that is distracting, it’s how the facilitator shows up.
Presence is everything I think in this work. It’s really all we have to offer the group once the logistics are taken care of. We can show up and drone on and on about the topic and the energy saps. We can be bored and the group will get bored too. We can show up too excited and the group will eye us as a nervous puppy. Presence is many things, but at a core level it’s about rapport with the group and the topic. My own presence in open space tends to focus very clearly on the work at hand. I don’t tend to fill the group in on what’s “under the hood” of open space. Most of us don’t need to know how a car works in order to use it. How we hold space I think is what gives it the “granola” flavour. Or not.
Probably most of us know that open space “works” without a circle. The point is that, for all the disappearing the facilitator does, I think it really matters how we DO participate for the small amount of time we are before the group. Present AND invisible. I would say that the quality of our presence even transcends the geometry: I have seen terrible facilitators in a circle make a hash of open space. The good news is that, with a good invitation, the momentum of the group is nearly always able to overcome anything we put in their way.
For more on this ineffable quality, download The Tao of Holding Space.