I recently ran a workshop where I combined two techniques from Peter Senge’s 5th Disciple Fieldbook, namely Undiscussable topics, and the Fishbowl. I modified them both slightly to create a really revelatory experience for the participants.
I asked the team of 20 senior managers to write on cards what they thought would be “undiscussable” topics – issues which have been in the ether, but not talk about. They did this with ease. Some of the delegates commented that these topics were, in fact, not undiscussable at all, and this was the real undiscussable.
Then I invited the group to volunteer three of themselves to sit at a bar table and stools in the centre of a u-shaped room, and start the conversation. We left a fourth chair open for ad-hoc members to join the conversation and contribute or question, and then leave the group.
The outer circle of participants were instructed to remain completely silent, and observe and make notes on both the content of the conversation and on the conversation itself.
Only a few of the observers could see past the, often shallow, content and dig into what was really going on in the room. The observations of the body language and tone were the most interesting, as the 4th chair participants continually upset the balance of the fishbowl.
The exercise, which ran for 2 hours, and covered about 5 questions, was a good catalyst for highlighting the need for more depth of conversation, but with the rigour and discipline of a practised art.