Shift your perspective and see an experience through someone else’s eyes
This is the first part of the Liberating Structures in practice series. In this series, I outline practical examples of how I used Liberating Structures in the wild.
A few months back, Max Brouwer and I hosted a workshop for the management team of Wonderkind. The product team of Wonderkind, including the CTO, Head of Development, and Product Owner recognised that the team needed to make tough priority choices. We facilitated the conversations that needed to happen and helped them create a first version of their roadmap. The whole day had been a string of liberating structures, like Impromptu Networking, Appreciative Interviews, and Purpose-To-Practice.
The UX Fishbowl allows a small group to debrief a shared experience and pass their learnings on to a larger crowd.
As a last exercise of the day, we were eager to reflect. What did the group experience? What are the things they would take back to their daily work? What happened when this group was together for a whole day? And, especially interesting for Max and myself, did the day deliver the value the product team was looking for?
We invited the group to participate in a User Experience Fishbowl (UX Fishbowl or just Fishbowl for short). In this structure, a small group of people of 3 to 7 people evaluate or debrief a shared experience that they have. They are placed in a small circle in the center of the group. The other participants place themselves in a larger circle around that. It’s important that everyone in the outer circle can actually hear the people in the inner circle. You might need microphones for that, but we did not.
As a first step, we explained the structure to everyone. The conversation starts in the inner circle. We invited the product team of 3 there, because they were closely involved in the preparation of the day. They had that shared experience, that shared lens on the day that had just ended. I joined as a facilitator for that inner group. We started the conversation by using another liberating structure (What?, So What?, Now What?).
The conversation took off. We could lean back and let the three initiators talk: they were absolute talents there. After about 15 minutes, the conversation died down on its own. We then invited the outer circle, that had been intensively listening and frantically writing, to ask their questions. To make sure everyone was heard, we invited everyone to pose a single question and then pass the turn on to another participant. Of course everyone got multiple turns, so all questions could be asked eventually. It just saves a lot of “oh, eh, let me see, I have another one” and keeps energy flowing. This passing of turns happened fairly naturally. As a facilitator, you want to be alert on this, though. One person that keeps holding on to their turn and the energy levels could be dropping drastically.
By letting everyone pose just one question at a time, we helped them focus on what’s most important to them at that time.
After the questions died down too, we summarised and went our separate ways.
The energy in the room during this late-afternoon exercise was interesting to me. It had been a day with intense discussions and, from a facilitators point of view, a lot of plans that went out of the window. The group lifted up when hearing the inner circle, the product team, talk during the UX Fishbowl. Questions were posed and answered. Understanding ensued. Everyone brought their own unique perspective, and most importantly, compared their perspective to that of the product team that invited everyone to join them in building their product vision and roadmap with them in that workshop.
The UX Fishbowl provides a strong informal setting: it invites the participants inside the fishbowl to discuss the topic as they would do in the pub. It also provides a noteworthy physical set-up: the group is asked to sit in two concentric circles without tables or objects to separate them from each other, empowering the informal setting even more. By setting up the room like that, the UX Fishbowl helps the "fish" in the inner circle to focus on each other. They are not outlining a detailed version of a story for everyone to completely understand. They are sharing their thoughts and feelings about the experience they all shared. The narrative will therefore be completely different from the one that surfaces when they would have been asked to "talk the others through" the preparation and the workshop itself. The outside group listens closely and interprets what is being said. These interpretations, along with the questions that they ask afterwards, helps in finding unspoken assumptions and clearing them up.
This shift of perspective and the accompanying understanding of the perspectives of others is something that I saw happening in another fishbowl as well. After the first Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop in March 2018, the team of facilitators running that workshop did their evaluation in that same fishbowl setting. They formed the inner circle while the participants formed the outer circle. Being part of that outer circle helped me to link their facilitator perspective to the things I had seen happening during the day.
Have you ever used the UX Fishbowl? What happened, and what are your experiences?