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Magic in the Circle – a reflection

I sit and wait. Seven empty chairs wait with me. Soon they will be filled by a

leadership team that has lost their will to lead.

A single piece of paper is positioned on the floor, centred, so as to hold the shape of

the circle of chairs.

My only props are four simple questions, eight felt pens, my passport, a book, post-it

notes and a smoothly carved wooden egg. It sounds more like a magic show than

two hours of team building.

I hear their chatter on the stairs. I wonder what they expect from this session? From

me? I quietly share their wonderings. But somehow my pre-session energy feels

different. The circle invites an equality of belonging. A shared responsibility to

learning. I loosen my hold on any expectation I have for an outcome, and free my

head from thought. The group tumbles in.

Energy fills the room. There is a playful jostling for chairs and favourite colour pens,

are swapped. Clearly the walk from their office in the crisp Wellington air has done

them good. As light-hearted jokes and warm greetings are exchanged we settle into

our seats, and step inside our circle.

We move in and out of question and reflection. Laughter and vulnerability are

expressed in equal amounts. New stories are told, and old ones released. Reticent

voices speak and familiar voices rest. There is balance in the room that

acknowledges the quietest and the loudest, the surest, and the least sure. There is a

permission to be different, that I trust will outlive this meeting. I am hopeful, as each

participant has been a part of making “difference” feel okay.

As we settle into our closing round, the words “fun, safe, connected, acknowledging,

self-determining, insightful and able to speak,” are offered.

Props are returned to me, and I mentally record a promise to do this again in a

month. They embrace the Wellington weather once more.

I sit and wait. This time I am waiting for the good feeling that overwhelms me, to

settle into something I more clearly understand. I wonder if having stepped into the

circle, I can step out of it? A new lens seems to have been attached to my brain,

creating possibilities and adaptations to my family mediation practice and workplace

facilitations. I sit and scribble ideas in the knowledge that by being part of the circle

myself, its magic has stimulated my own creativity and leadership.

I start to pack up the room, moving the board table back into prime position, the

chairs obediently placed around it. It looks stuffy and powerful and inhibiting and

unfriendly. As I imagine myself in this familiar setting, I wonder how I ever managed

to have a single creative, wise thought? I assume I did, but perhaps without the ease

and enjoyment and safety of the circle room that I now know exists for me.

To those readers who, like me, are beginning their journey into this work, I hope this

reflection of my first experience, encourages you to step in and take your seat in the


Nicola Hartfield

8 November 2020

Mediator and Workplace Consultant


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