Circle of Questions

Posted by Doc
Feb 15 2009

The Circle of Questions is a technique I learned from Agile Retrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby. It’s a book well worth reading if you facilitate any kind of group meetings, not just Agile Retrospectives.

In this activity, the group sits in a circle, and going around the circle, each person takes a turn asking a question to the person on their immediate left. The question can be about anything they like (barring anything offensive or attacking), but it’s helpful to focus on something relevant to this group and its history/activities. The person to the left answers the question to the best of their ability, and then they ask the person to their left any other question (or the same question if they feel they’d like a better answer). This continues until the allotted time is up, or until you have gone around the entire circle twice, whichever comes last. Make sure you go around the complete circle: if some people in the group get more turns to ask or answer a question than others, it can send the wrong message.

[This write-up courtesy of John Wilger]

Variations:

  • After the first time around, reverse direction
  • After the first time around, have every second person get up and change places
  • Go around more than twice
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12 Responses

  1. Diana says:

    Hi Doc, It helps the group, when using Circle of Questions, to offer a boundary for the questions; e.g., ask questions that will help us decide what experiment to chose for the next iteration; ask questions to help us determine which to adopt next; ask questions focused on our teamwork and how we’re working together; and so on. Create a container, so that the questions are less likely to go wandering off in some random direction, and so that you can tell when the team is reaching “group mind.” Once the circle starts, though, let it go its own way. Fascinating developments can occur. :-)

  2. Diana says:

    Did I mention – I love this activity! It gets at things no other activity does as well and it’s such fun to watch the “magic” happen.

  3. Diana says:

    Oh, and it almost always takes at least two trips around the circle for group mind to develop, sometimes three or four. So choose this activity when you can give it the time it needs to be effective.

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