Fishbowl - Synthesis - Group Intent Conversation

Posted on by Bill Burck

A “conversation in a fish bowl” is when you have two or more people discuss a topic in front of a larger group, who actively listen yet do not participate in the conversation. This is usually a large group module, but it can be employed while part of the group engages in different assignments. The effect of this format is to insulate the “fish” (those “in the fish bowl”) from having to react or respond to the “audience,” and instead focus on one-another. It’s a way of concentrating the focus, often allowing the dialog to reveal things that would be awkward to present directly to the group. For example, the executives of a company, during a fish bowl conversation, might be able to talk about their concerns regarding the risk involved with a proposed venture, or to critique their own performance or that of their organization, without it becoming laden with other messages.

To have participants observe and understand the perspectives, thoughts, or thinking process of those “in the fish bowl.”

Too variable to generalize.

Strengths — Puts the “fish” at ease — most people are more adept at expressing themselves in a conversation than in an impromptu presentation to a group. Can reveal thoughts and assessments that are difficult to communicate. Can be instructive and empowering to those observing (allowing them, vicariously, to “walk in the shoes of” the “fish”). Weaknesses — Can feel artificial; it is odd to have a conversation with a larger group listening in, isn’t it? Can connote a “we-they” separation between the observers and the fish. Some fish may become overly concerned with looking good; grandstanding could result. Specifications for Success — 1 - Design the process to ensure a robust conversation. Like a DesignTeam assignment, it has to have the right boundaries and challenge. 2 - Address the “we-they” issue when you introduce the process.........

Did you hear that was significant? What did you observe? What did you gain from it? (Can open to a group synthesis conversation).

Use this format to provide participants with feedback from the facilitation Put participants in the fish bowl to assess, where are we? Rotate participants in and out of the fish bowl. Follow a Fish Bowl Conversation with feedback from the observers.