Tracy and Beth debriefing in fishbowl at RRU Quarterdeck

Tracy Roberts (left) and myself debriefing in fishbowl at RRU. Photo credit Donna Desbiens – used with permission.

In late April I co-facilitated a workshop with my friend and colleague Tracy (Kelly) Roberts, it was a two-day Liberating Structures immersion for Royal Roads University. We had 27 participants with us learning how to use Liberating Structures, a set of 33 facilitation processes that any one of us can use to be more inclusive and effective – and fun! – in meetings, workshops or courses.

I’ve written about LS immersions that I’ve been involved in before (see bullet points of other posts below), so in this post I particularly want to talk about how we debriefed our facilitation experience at the end of the first day of the workshop in full view of the participants using one of the Liberating Structures.

It was just over two years ago that I first saw a team of facilitators debrief the first day of a workshop in front of participants using User Experience Fishbowl from Liberating Structures. It was at a LS immersion led by Keith McCandless (one of the founders of LS) and included Tracy and other facilitators from B.C. post-secondary institutions. I attended the fishbowl at the end of Day 1 as an observer and was blown away by their modelling of transparency and vulnerability as facilitators. I had never seen any facilitator debrief in full view of participants like that before. In fact, the experience was so impactful for me that I immediately started to incorporate it into my facilitation practice as well, and have done it several times with co-facilitators since both in person and online.

Getting back to the April workshop, when Tracy and I ran our fishbowl at the end of our Day 1 we spent ten minutes ‘in the bowl’ talking to each other about how we thought the first day went. In the photo at right you can see that the “plus delta” flipchart paper of participant feedback was beside us, and we somewhat riffed off of the sticky-noted participant input there to have our conversation. However, we also added our own thoughts and asked each other questions about how we thought things went and how we thought the other person could improve. We followed no real plan, we just talked and let the conversation go where it wanted to go. During this time period our participants silently watched us and in some ways it was easy to forget that they were there. in other ways I felt their presence, particularly when I brought up some points that Tracy and I had already talked about to each other throughout the day. I guess I wanted to let the folks know that we had already been thinking about certain things up until that point. Ten minutes went by fast!

When our time was up we invited our participants to join the fishbowl and talk with us. They seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to hear things from our perspective as facilitators of the workshop. (They were, after all, fellow facilitators!) One of the things I remember is that they were concerned that we talked a lot about things that we wanted to do better and they wanted us to know that the day had been very good! We assured them that we just ALWAYS want to do things better, so focusing on what we want to improve just comes naturally to us, but yes, that we did recognize that it was a pretty good first day. I don’t remember that they asked us any tough questions or brought up any issues that we didn’t already know about, but I do think I got the same sense from them that watching us debrief – even just for that short period of time – had been really interesting and perhaps even impactful.

I plan to continue this practice of debriefing in the open to continue growing as a facilitator and encourage you to try it too! If you do, I recommend going to the Liberating Structures website and reading the instructions for User Experience Fishbowl. You can modify it to be as simple as we did: ten minutes with co-facilitators only in the bowl, seeing where the conversation takes you, and then widen the circle and invite participants to bring their chairs in. Schedule the debrief for just after the official end of the workshop, e.g. 4:00 – 4:30pm for a workshop that technically ends at 4:00pm. (Release all the participants who aren’t staying for the fishbowl first!) Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Other posts about Liberating Structures immersions that I’ve been involved in:

Liberating Structures resources to check out: