1 min read
Fri 06 Nov 2020 Writing

Talking In Rounds In Meetings

Talking in rounds is a great way to run a meeting. Why not try it?

When we talk in meetings at Common Knowledge we talk mostly in rounds.

Talking in rounds means taking it in turns to talk, one person after another. You do this without interrupting, cross talking or responding directly.

If you have something to say that responds to someone else, you wait for your turn in the order to do so.

How we do it

As we are conducting meetings remotely, we put the speaking order up where people can see it clearly, so they know who is before and after them. In real life we'd just move round in a circle in the order people are sitting or standing.

Typically we decide the order by chance, using random.org .

We try to avoid the person who is facilitating the meeting going last, as this creates a bit too much control for them. We also like to try and make sure not the same people are speaking last and first. It should feel continuous and flowing, like a circle, not a series, like a line up.

If you don't have anything to add, you can say pass. We like everyone to try and speak, but acknowledge feeling comfortable enough to speak takes time.

For example, a standard round might go something like this:

  • Person A (Facilitator): Okay, so what do people think of this idea? Let's talk in rounds. The order is B, C, A, D. I'll put it on the meeting notes so people can see.
  • Person B: Sounds like a good idea, but I am worried about X, Y and Z.
  • Person C: Responding to B's point, I think that also but have you considered that...
  • Person A: I am not so sure because of this reason...
  • Person D: Pass.
  • Person B: Okay, seem that there are few things going on here...going to go for another round...what I am hearing is that..

And so on.

How many rounds?

When a topic needs it, we will go through a few rounds until it feels natural to stop. Or that we've exhausted the time for discussion on the meeting plan. Or the number of rounds we decided to do before hand. It's easier than you think to gauge when there has been "enough" and it feels the topic is exhausted.

When we talk outside of rounds, it sometimes feels fragmented and unclear, especially when on a digital call. Talking in rounds clears the ambiguity about when to speak by making who speaks next explicit and clear. This problem is exacerbated by digital delay, so talking in rounds really suits remote meetings.

Of course it might be useful just to have a free form discussion from time to time. But is good to do this explicitly: "okay, let's have a free form discussion for ten minutes".

More often than not we come back to rounds as it is clearer. One of the most common things you will hear us say at Common Knowledge is "can we talk in rounds?".

Why we do this


Power dynamics in meetings mean often that some people speak a little, some people speak a lot. Talking in rounds enforces the idea that everyone should be able to speak or be asked to speak. Everyone will get their say. If the facilitator and time keeper are on point, everyone will get their say equally.

In situations where is is appropriate for certain people to have more say, a good facilitator will note this power dynamic and ask people to be mindful of this when beginning the round, or ask people to pass unless they have anything particular to say, or ask that they are out of the round altogether. For example, in situations where the issue being discussed concerns certain members of the group disproportionately and they should say more. It isn't perfect, but it is aims in the direction of more equal relations not less.

Asking if people have a take by asking them to raise their hands excludes everyone not comfortable with raising their hands or thinking what they say or think isn't important enough to say out loud. Participation and inclusion is the default when speaking in rounds.

Learning how to talk in rounds

Talking in rounds is hard, partly because we aren't used to communicating like this. They aren't used to giving everyone the space to speak (if they are privileged) or, sometimes, they aren't being used to ask to speak or for their view (if they are less privileged).

It also sometimes feels like you'd like to jump straight back in to reply to someone. But one effect talking in rounds has is to make you listen to what other people are saying, process your thoughts and emotions about it a little, and then reply, rather than replying directly. But it also allows you to gather yourself after speaking if needed, knowing you don't have to directly reply.

This takes times and practice. It requires patience and mutual respect.

If you want to build off the back of someone else's thoughts, then it can be useful to keep some lightweight notes of what you want to say, rather than relying on short term memory alone. It helps also to keep good minutes and keep these visible as you go along.

Talking in rounds with others


Sometimes in meetings with outside collaborators we ask if people would like to talk in rounds and then take this approach. People understand it pretty much immediately without naming.

Sometimes we facilitate a meeting and use "talking in rounds" without mentioning this is what we are doing by name.

Here the facilitator will just pick people in order until everyone has been picked.

In a meeting on Zoom, or our preferred platform, Jitsi , this is easy because people will have their name under their video stream. "What do you think Y?" is how you can begin.

You can even get people to self-serve "We are going to start with X and then pass the conversation onto someone else when you've done speaking. We are going to do this until everyone has spoken". We've done this with collaborators in meetings of up to 14 people, feeding back and it works well.

Talking in rounds and sociocracy

Talking in rounds is part of the sociocratic suite of techniques that we use to run our meetings and decision making at Common Knowledge.

Talking in rounds in particular is part of the process used for making consent based decisions in groups. Once you've got good at talking in rounds, using them to make consent based decisions becomes quite natural.

Why not give it a try?

After checking in, talking in rounds is one of the easiest sociocratic techniques to start doing.

If you've read this and decided to try it out, drop us a line to say how it is going. Or share this blog post on social media or over email.

If you'd like training on these techniques, our friends at Outlandish offer it and it is really worthwhile .