“A fishbowl conversation is a form of dialog that can be used when discussing topics within large groups. Fishbowl conversations are sometimes also used in participatory events such as unconferences. The advantage of fishbowl is that it allows the entire group to participate in a conversation. Several people can join the discussion.”
Leaders can use a so-called fishbowl model in which decision makers and key experts sit around a table—or virtual table—to make a decision (exhibit).
At the table are one or two decision makers, multiple experts, and one or two “empty seats” for other relevant stakeholders in the gallery to rotate in as they have points to share.
A majority of stakeholders observes the meeting, which builds understanding without having to make an extra communication step afterward.
In an in-person meeting, stakeholders watching the fishbowl can contribute information and ideas by temporarily taking one of the empty seats, briefly participating in the meeting, and then returning to the gallery.
In a virtual meeting, the stakeholders are on mute but can participate by “raising their hand,” with a moderator inviting them in and unmuting them.
There are several steps leaders can take to involve more people:
1. Clarify the decisions to be made.
2. Identify a small number of decision makers.
3. Identify who should have a voice, including relevant stakeholders and experts, and those who will implement decisions.
4. Create a forum for rapid debate to take place. Be clear that everyone has a voice but not a vote.
When following this approach, it is possible to involve a large number of stakeholders and experts without sacrificing speed. Especially when things are unfamiliar and the decisions you are considering are bold, you need many points of view to make sure the decision makers aren’t missing something.