Dinner at our place, hanging out by the fire, let’s do lunch, a drink after work: these are often some of the sweetest times in our days. Sometimes they are planned and other times spontaneous. Sometimes they are quiet and sometimes raucous. Sometimes they are for serious conversations and sometimes they are for letting go.
What if we made these kinds of gatherings an intentional practice? Intentional in the sense of meeting regularly, at an agreed upon time, for an agreed upon duration, with an agreed upon purpose. What if we committed to each other to keep showing up? That we wouldn’t leave the group for a specified period of time, at least long enough to experience the best and the worst of each other. In these gatherings, we could practice being in authentic relationship with each other with our whole selves.
In three different instances for three different purposes I have been a lucky participant in just such gatherings. I am one of three co-founders of a small consulting and training company. Our company is based on friendship and in many ways authentic relationships is our business model. The three of us decided from the beginning that if our core competency was to support others in developing meaningful relationships, then we needed to make this one of our core practices, as well. We meet together once a month, usually for around four hours. Most months we spend the first hour or two in a deep check-in with one another. These check-in’s are both related to our work with each other, but they are also about our lives in general. We intentionally pierce the artificial veil between who we are as co-workers and who we are as private people. We have been doing this now for about three years.
In the early days of our relationships our check-ins were largely made up of getting to know each other at ever deepening levels. They were heartfelt and often very moving. As the years have rolled along they remain that, but we have also come to reveal some of those pieces and parts of ourselves that each of us struggle to accept. For me, it has meant sharing my jealousy because I am not able to be a part of their work team very often, and at times I feel like a third wheel. I’ve also been challenged when I feel I’m not being heard: I see my habit of wanting to “take my ball and go home.” This is not easy stuff, but it’s real and part of what it means to deal with being in authentic relationships. The commitment is to not quit, but to stay, to see, to learn and to arrive at the next level.
There isn’t time for the whole long and lovely story here, but I have also been in a peer coaching relationship for well over a decade now. These are monthly phone calls and, as you can imagine, we have both gone through many changes in our lives over these twelve years. We have been there for each other as witnesses and coaches throughout this time. My growth and my life’s direction have been hugely altered because of the ongoing authentic relationship with this person.
And, finally, there is the weekly circle of our leadership team in the organization where I serve as CEO and where I spend most of my time. Our team has been meeting in circle once a week, usually for an hour and a half, also over a period of twelve years. It’s how we get work done and how we stay in relationship. As I often say to people: when you meet deliberately over time, using circle practice, the end result is wise decisions and loving the people you work with. That mythical line of our business persona and who we really are fades away. Here, we are real people, caring for each other and doing good work.
I hope this gives you a sense of what we mean when we at Berkana talk about “Gathering Friends.” I hope it serves as an invitation into your own creation of meaningful circles among friends and colleagues.