A fishbowl conversation is a form of dialog that can be used when discussing topics within large groups. Four to five chairs are arranged in an inner circle. This is the fishbowl. The remaining chairs are arranged outside the fishbowl. A few participants are selected to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl. One chair is left empty Any member of the audience can, at any time, occupy the empty chair and join the fishbowl. When this happens, an existing member of the fishbowl must voluntarily leave the fishbowl and free a chair. The discussion continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl.
We tried a slight variation on this in that we had the people not currently in the fishbowl stand around the outside of fishbowl rather than sitting down in an attempt to encourage participation.
The overall feedback that we got from the session was that it was enjoyable to take part in although it was clear that people weren’t rotating into and out from the fishbowl as frequently as I’ve seen before.
The tone of the discussion was also relatively agreeable and there weren’t any big disagreements between people where they got really fired up in defending their view.
Sumeet pointed out afterwards that the fishbowl is often more effective in facilitating discussion around a topic which people are really passionate about and have strong opinions on.
Since we had only introduced the ThoughtWorks values about 20 minutes earlier this wouldn’t fit into that category.
Interestingly although the trainers had strong opinions on certain topics it was difficult to create a discussion because the grads mostly didn’t have examples to disagree with those points so the discussion became more theoretical/hypothetical.
I do like this format though so we’ll have to try it again with some other topics or perhaps the same one in a few weeks time to see how it works out.