Archive: My first circle session in business


By Alison Bremner
January 2013

This post has been moved from its original location at and archived here, so you can continue to access it.

We open 2013 with a Circle Tale about using circle in traditional business settings. This month’s story was written by Alison Bremner, who attended a practicum in The Circle Way in August of 2012. Alison is a coach, facilitator and trainer who supports individuals and teams in fulfilling their potential. She is based in Aberdeen, Scotland, and works with clients in the oil and gas industry, local government, IT, and pharmaceuticals. Thank you, Alison, for sharing your story.

I facilitate in business, usually working with team members and leaders who predominantly have an engineering background. Team retreats tend to focus mostly on business agendas. Most of my clients are unused to speaking of feelings--at least in the work environment.

My first application of circle after my summer 2012 circle practicum on Whidbey Island was with a leadership team in the oil and gas industry. Sixteen people came for a three-day residential retreat. We worked with the Four Agreements, combining them with two of the Three Principles. I wanted to keep it simple, and all within one steering document. 

We went slowly at the beginning and really spent some time exploring what living these Agreements would look like. Many times during the workshop, I checked in with them about how they were doing with those. The regular conscience checks meant they raised their awareness and adapted their behaviors as we progressed.

I asked them to bring symbols of achievement for the centre (see photo below). One of the symbols I found most meaningful came from one of the younger leaders who brought fruit. He spoke of how the team had been separate (a banana, an apple, a pear), and now a little mixed together (a fruit salad), and his vision for them was to be a smoothie!

We used lots of other processes, including Open Space, and a process I’ve created for cross-group feedback called “Post-Box.” We started and finished each day in circle and had some really powerful conversations in circle. We checked out at the end in the way Ann and Christina showed us at Aldermarsh. I was last to speak and deeply moved by what each participant shared. They opened up to a degree they never have before in the work I have done with them.  They shared that these were the most meaningful dialogues they had had as a leadership team and had built greater trust.

One of the leaders said he plans to use circle with his team, which I was delighted to hear.  Ahhh… the ripple effect.

The key question I am left with is whether to use circle as a single facilitator. One of the leaders reacted emotionally to some feedback and was too overcome to speak. I am very comfortable with a whole range of emotions, but at that moment it would have been helpful to have a co-facilitator sit and work with him just after that incident, during our break. One of the other leaders in the group actually took that role while I got the group set up for their Open Space session. It all recovered very well and the group was proud that they could recover. I am conscious, though, that there may be instances when it would have been better to have another professional facilitator.

We had a really positive debrief meeting one month later. I was pleased to hear that, not only are they starting to use circle in their internal regular leadership meetings, but they have also designated one of the meeting rooms in their new office building (under construction) as a room for meeting in circle, with furniture and room environment to suit! I will look forward to seeing that. They hadn’t brought a talking piece to their first internal meeting after our workshop, and so used an orange that one of them had taken into the room!

We also had a really useful conversation about how they (the managing director and other two sponsors) handled the “breakdown.” I asked them whether, in hindsight, it would have been better to have dual facilitation. Though they recognized it was initially tough, they spoke of the positive spin-off of them having handled it well as a team and recovered well. Their preference would be to continue with a single facilitator, and for me to identify, through knowing the group, who would be able to step in to support should it be required.

So a great outcome for them, and I personally couldn’t have wished for a better session for my first circle experience.