Double Linking and Medium-Sized Groups

This is a follow-up to a discussion on the SIPS group.
cc: @Andrew.Grant

Some Introduction

We are a for-profit small business of ~60 workers (8 software development teams, 1 operations team, sales+marketing) and have been trying out the double-linking concept this year, scheduling one “general circle” meeting a quarter.

The output of the meeting, which is a scheduled for 1-2 hours, is a set of “needs improvement” and “what went well” for the last quarter, which is used to set priorities, todos, and a backlog of tasks for the operations team, which then meets every other week to review the items and take action (or try to delegate).

Who Attends

The client-facing member of each team (this is the top-down link), and one team-selected delegate (the bottom-up link). With ~9 teams, this results in ~18 people.

Is this more of a Consent Circle or a Feedback Circle?

It’s more of a feedback circle.

Is the Double Link Necessary?

It would be hard to get rid of it, for all the reasons dynamic governance is usually brought up. We started doing this because of the double-link, we already have multiple circles / working groups in which there’s 1 rep from each team.
It is an opportunity for the business to course-correct, to relieve minor discomfort, to shift into a more comfortable or successful path.
At the individual level, it is a way to attempt to shape policy and to understand why some things are the way that they are.

Can we split the very large general circle?

Unlike the classic bakery example, all of the development teams do pretty much the same thing - they have the same aim, domain, and day-to-day experience.

While splitting might make sense, we would be splitting randomly, which might be fine. if we have many teams with the same aim and domain, why not have some mini-GCs?

These “minis” would be even less consent-y than what we have now - now we can at least gesture as a body that items A, B, and C are indeed concerning and that item Z went very well. We would need to have yet another circle to synthesize the outputs of the mini circles. Again, this might be fine - if we split the current “GC” into two, it could send one delegate each into the ops team, which would continue to do the synthesis.

The Ask

Examples of other similar groups doing this?

Related Discussion on the Forum

Interesting situation. I think you are working well in trying to figure out what works for your situation. As long as you are measuring and evaluating your experiments you ought to be able to evolve as you go to suit your needs.
I have had a client that is a small software company with its own adaptations of circle structure at the broadest level (GC and top circle). Those adaptations don’t quite match your situation though, as it is only an ~18-person company.

My concern for what you describe is that it will create confusion about what a GC is, and is not, and that will cause problems sooner or later (as well as confusing external observers who are trying to learn from your situation). The definition of a GC is very specific and a circle that doesn’t match the definition s not a GC.
Do you have a domain and aims defined for the circle you describe? That will help clarify what it does and doesn’t do. Assuming it’s a policy-making circle, which it may not be as you describe it (“It’s more of a feedback circle”) - which is ambiguous to me. Does it make policy, or not?
It sounds from part of your description like this circle is doing some of the work of a top circle (“mission” circle in SofA jargon) - this part: “It is an opportunity for the business to course-correct, to relieve minor discomfort, to shift into a more comfortable or successful path.”
A splitting of this circle does not make sense to me. What would that gain, what would be the benefit?
That the development teams are very similar at policy level is not a problem. It would typically make the work of this circle easier, since they are all coming from a similar policy perspective even if their operational output is quite distinct.
Finally, size is not a ‘problem’ in itself. More relevant questions are whether the circle has clear domain and aims, whether the membership aligns with the domain and aims, whether the work of the circle is getting done effectively, and so on.

Not sure I completely understood the situation but I’m aware of a group (IT business) that does it like this: they have the regular work circles but not all people are in it. They basically rotate people with same roles through the circle, with staggered terms. Interestingly, that means that at any given point in time, about half or more of the people are only in op roles, not in decision-making circles. They do have a really good feedback culture so people not in circles are heard anyway.
I’m not sure how I feel about it but it makes a lot of sense when there are dozens of people in exactly the same role. @ce1

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