FishBowl Retrospective

I recently ran a retrospective for one of our Scrum teams. I decided to mix things up a bit and use a technique that I haven't used in a long time - the FishBowl.

The idea behind the FishBowl is quite simple - assemble some chairs (I used 4 chairs for about 12 people) in a semi-circle. These are the fish. Everyone else sits behind the inner circle - these are the observers.

I stood near the FishBowl, encouraged conversation and made sure that the rules were followed. I also took notes using a flip chart.


  • Only the 'fish' can speak

  • The 'fish' can only speak when exactly one of the fish' seats are empty

  • Anyone may come forward and sit in the empty chair at any time

  • Discussion then stops until one of the 'fish' relinquishes their seat and returns to an observer seat

  • People may move between areas as often as they like

This has a number of effects on the group.

  • People realize that they may only have a limited time to speak and will make points quite directly

  • The group self-manages people who 'hog' the speaking chairs back into the observer pool

  • When people feel passionate about a particular topic they jump into a fish chair

The session went really well - lots of intense passionate debate. I think that this is a really useful technique and a good way to introduce variation into a retrospective. Try it and see how it works for you!


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