Inner Circles: The Critical Players in any Organization

by Jim Cathcart

Circles, circles everywhere and all of them lead to outcomes.
Every group of people; a business, family, church, school or team has an “Inner Circle”. These are the people through whom the major results are achieved. In the White House, in Congress, in Harvard University, in the San Diego Padres and at Google…there are small groups of people without whom the whole enterprise would suffer.

Even small businesses have Inner Circles. It’s often Mom & Pop plus the most productive workers. As a sales person or a consultant, once you know who is in the Inner Circle of leadership then you know who to work with to affect major change in the organization.

In war, once you know the Inner Circle of your enemy then taking them out or removing their ability to function well is your key to victory. In sports it is the Inner Circle of certain talented individuals that inspire and lead the rest of the team to the championship. And you have an Inner Circle too. We all do.

Your Inner Circle consists of somewhere between a few and a dozen people. Groups larger than that are no longer “Inner” circles. Consider for a moment how many people you absolutely rely on in order to be productive each day. Regardless of their titles your Circle may contain; assistants, coworkers, your boss, a colleague, a key contact at one of your client companies, a supplier, a mentor or even your spouse. If any of these folks were to go away, your world and your productivity would reflect it right away. That’s what I mean by “the people through whom you produce your results.”

Take a minute and list the people in your Inner Circle. Keep it to twelve or fewer people. Don’t worry if it is only four or five people. Write down their names and their roles or positions in relation to working with or assisting you. Seriously, take some time and write them down right now.

Next, draw a “sociogram”, this is a format much like a graph or bar chart in which you put your name in the center and surround yourself with the names of the Inner Circle players. Think of a Hub (you) with spokes leading out to the others in a large wheel-like display. You are the one around whom the Inner Circle is organized and the spoke connecting you to each person represents your relationship with that person. Don’t bother connecting them to each other just yet. That’s for a later exercise.

Now do an analysis of three things about your Circle.
1. Examine the Mix of talents and viewpoints represented in this group. Is there a variety of complementary talents or does everyone seem to fit the same limited profile?
2. Notice the Individual Contributions each person brings to the team. What special qualities does he or she contribute? And…
3. Assess the state of your Relationship with each person. How well does that specific relationship work for both of you? Are you both committed to the success of the relationship? Do you tell each other the whole truth all of the time? Do you have a clear understanding of what you expect from each other? Do you have clear agreements to help you resolve potential conflicts?

The above analysis may be one of the most important thinking assignments you complete all year. After all these are the major players in your world and when you get everything right in connecting with them…success is imminent.

When every person in the organization is aware of his Inner Circle and then goes to work on improving; the mix, the talents and the relationships with each person…the organization improves almost immediately. After all, what is an organization but a group of people committed to a common cause? When you improve either the people or their relationships or both, you are bound to get overall improvement as well.

Try this exercise with your own Inner Circle and then go back to my earlier article on “Relationship Intelligence”. Increasing the Relationship Intelligence of each Inner Circle is the quickest way to improve Teamwork, Productivity, Collaboration, and Innovation.

Jim Cathcart

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