The 3 rings of commitment in any group

Managing any team, network or group becomes a whole lot easier if you understand the distinction of the three concentric rings of team member commitment.

Fraser's spiral

Image Source: Fraser's spiral from Visual illusions and mathematics

I define the three concentric rings as the Inner Ring, Middle Ring and Outer Ring.

For something so fundamental I was amazed to find there seems to be very little written about it - the only reference I could find to anything vaguely similar is in "Mastering Virtual Teams " [1].

The 3 rings

Essentially the group leader(s) and each group member should make a joint decision on which one of the three concentric rings of commitment they belong in (at that point in time):

  1. The Inner Ring
    This is where the leaders and most committed group members reside.
    This is also referred to as the Core Team where the members are "accountable for direct task output".
  2. The Middle Ring
    This is where the normal active team members reside.
    This is also called this the Extended Team where there is not necessarily daily involvement from the members.
  3. The Outer Ring
    This is where the team members who make occasional input reside.
    This is also known as the Ancilliary Team whose role include adhoc expertise, reviewing and approving work.

Using the 3 rings

The three rings of groups make it very easy to discuss with team members, in simple terms, where everyone sits in terms of their commitment to the team.

It also works very well with collaborative business networks where team commitment is often the number one problem.

For each ring of the group you just have to agree with its members:

  • Types of communication

  • Reply and response times

  • Hours per week

  • Involvement etc

You need all 3 rings!

Finally don't fall into the trap of thinking that Ring 3 members are less valuable that Ring 1 or Ring 2 members.

You need all three rings operating well in a successful team or network.

Ring 3 members can be absolutely crucial in areas such as authority, approvals, organisational grapevines and politics.


1. "Mastering Virtual Teams " by Deborah Duarte and Nancy Tennant Snyder" and published by Jossey-Bass.

This article was originally published on in November, 2005

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:

Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Best Designs

The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks

Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 500 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.

Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques. The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps musicians and bands form a unique collaboration with their fans for mutual benefit.

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