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Keep the conversation fair and flowing with the fishbowl method

(EDITORIAL) Trying to maintain effective collaboration during conversation can ultimately end up chaotic. The fishbowl method streamlines the process.

goldfish in a bowl representing fishbowl method

In research published this January, findings show collaboration is key to employee job satisfaction and company success. Finding ways to make that collaboration work is the hard part. There’s nothing worse than facilitating a meeting where no one participates except, perhaps, facilitating a chaotic meeting where everyone participates and nothing is accomplished because of the chaos. Enter the fishbowl method, a team-building collaboration method that helps turn chaos into success.

In the fishbowl method, participants break into two groups: an inside group of speakers and an outside group of those watching and taking notes. The fishbowl method can lead to huge collaboration wins. And those wins lead to company success stories and happy employees.

Like all collaboration formats, leader organization is key. Before starting a fishbowl strategy session, know what you want to accomplish. Is this a brainstorming session, an analysis debrief, or an ice breaker? The answers to those questions matter to how you organize your fishbowl.

You have options for fishbowl organization. Leaders in the middle will give an organization a chance to give staff members insight into leadership thought processes. Staff in the middle can give employees a chance to express their opinions in a way that lends itself to leaders hearing their voices.

Adding an empty seat to the inside circle and allowing outside circle participants a chance to rotate in and out of that empty seat if they have ideas to share adds an extra element of collaboration. Switching out participants in the middle circle ensures everyone has a chance to speak if that’s a goal of your collaboration meeting.

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Workers seated around table for a meeting representing the fishbowl method.

Often when new team leaders start in leadership positions, they haven’t developed their voice yet. The fishbowl method gives those new leaders a chance to do just that. Allowing team members to watch, take notes, and write questions can lead to great a-ha moments and a deeper understanding of a company’s decision-making.

The fishbowl system can be done with in-person meetings and online using programs like Stoaa and Macro.

In a world where 40% of employees say they’re looking for work and strong collaboration has been shown to reduce turnover rates by up to 50%, it’s more important than ever to develop strong collaboration techniques. The fishbowl method is perfect for that.

Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.

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