Breakthroughs in complex problems

The Mastercircle Method © has been developed in The Netherlands to help organizations work together in complex challenges. It is developed by a Dutch network of mediators, active in public-private issues ranging from youth care, water safety to innovation management. Mediators invite ‘masters’ to reflect on participants’ approaches. Masters are respected and acknowledged role models to the participants, often former politicians and higher managers.

Participants present their current approach ‘on stage’, and receive feedback from this master, much like the masterclasses known in music. In mastercircles, a master not only helps a number of individual professionals ‘play’ individually, he also helps the group play together, in harmony. Their play is no music, but a joint approach, a joint language even, of a shared complex problem. A mastercircle therefore creates joint action. Because it aims at ‘head’ (joint analysis) as well as ‘heart’ (joint motivation), it envisages a change of attitude toward the joint problem and the other participants. This enables a breakthrough in common approach, clearly visible to stakeholders.

How it works

A mastercircle applies the ‘reverse learning method’: a participant presents his approach and receives feedback from his five peers and their common master. Together, they form the spark of a movement that creates wider change.

A mastercircle starts with a short session, termed ‘the urgency (de Urgentie)’, where stakeholders (usually higher managers) declare the urgency of a breakthrough in a specific complex challenge to six participants. Three mastersessions follow, with these participants, a master and a mediator. These mastersessions are termed ‘the challenge’ (de Opgave), ‘the turn-around’ (de Omslag), and ‘the future’ (de toekomst), respectively. In the fifth and final session, termed ‘the harvest’ (de oogst), participants present their breakthrough approach to the stakeholders. Total running time is 2 months. Results start being implemented even before the final session.

The setting of mastersessions

‘Reverse learning’, the core of any mastercircle, takes place at an oval table, with a ‘hot seat’, where masters have individual conversations with participants. Each participant presents and sits in the hot seat in every mastersession.

The U-process

In the mastercircle, but also in each of its sessions, the group is placed in a context that enables them to experience a U-process, according to Otto Scharmer’s ‘Theory U’.

Roles of a mastercircle

The participant
The participants are six peers, often from different organizations, and not (yet) operating as a team. They share a similar challenge, or their challenges touch upon each other. In any case they are anticipated to be able to develop a more effective joint approach than thay may each individually.

The master
The master is selected to be capable of analysing and co-sensing the situation of the participants and to make inspiring suggestions. He or she has ‘been there’ himself. In their conversation with each participant, sitting in the hot seat, they help clarify their situation, their personal options, and their joint options.

Masters are invited because they have shown they can bring teams to unusual breakthroughs. Innovation and acceleration are the outcome. Each of three mastersessions may have a different master, as circumstances require.

The mediator
The mediator is responsible for preparing the mastercircle and for keeping the mastercircle goal-oriented from beginning to end. He creates the context that enables all levels of learning: ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘will’. Mediators are trained under responsibility of Mastercircle BV.

The stakeholder or client
Stakeholders are representatives of groups who have a key interest in the achievement of a breakthrough in the complex challenge which is at the heart of the mastercircle. If possible, they are also higher managers in the participants’ organisations. They are committed to following-up on the propositions the participants develop during the mastercircle. To that end, they have an open mind.