Fishbowls: Keeping departments connected in a remote workplace

In today’s world, working across departments isn’t just an aspiration, it’s a requirement for achieving large-scale success. The ability for remote teams to fluidly come together on different projects makes an organization stronger than the sum of its individual parts, but bridging the gap between different departments is often challenging, and becomes even more difficult as organizations move to a remote work model.

So, how can organizations foster this agility in a remote workplace? What tools and practices support intentional collaboration and cross-functional understanding? Enter Fishbowls, a fun and simple way for organizations to level-up cross-departmental connections, foster a stronger team culture, and achieve greater collaborative success.

What exactly is a Fishbowl?
At Rotunda -- as in many organizations -- each team has a standing weekly meeting where recent successes and challenges are reviewed, upcoming projects are discussed, and team members align themselves to the work at hand. Fishbowls open up these team meetings to others in the organization as observers. The team “inside” the Fishbowl proceeds with their meeting as usual, while non-team members watch and listen, jot down questions, and take note of the language and tools being used. At the end, the fishbowl “opens up” and observers are invited to jump in with questions, offer up resources, and share opportunities for collaboration.

While Rotunda is a fully remote workplace and teams meet virtually via video calls, Fishbowls can easily be done in-person, too. What’s important is that the Fishbowls aren’t scripted but are instead as natural as possible. Observers should look for practical takeaways, but also benefit from experiencing the micro-cultures of different teams.

Why are Fishbowls beneficial?
There are many benefits of periodically hosting Fishbowls. Fishbowls help to validate and elevate the contributions of each team by allowing others to hear first-hand how work gets done within each department. Non-team members see and hear the roles embedded in a particular team and gain a more nuanced understanding of who to go to for what. Team wins and individual contributions are made more visible, allowing the whole organization to celebrate successes big and small.

Additionally, Fishbowls expose employees to specialized lingo and team jargon, giving non-team members contextualized access to language that may otherwise be foreign. Shared language can make cross-departmental communication more simple. The next time there is work that spans multiple departments, all teams can save time by not having to explain terminology that is familiar for one team but not commonly used across the organization.

Fishbowls may also highlight the specific tools and resources that different departments depend on. This can lead to unexpected efficiencies in cross-departmental projects and surface opportunities to streamline workflows through integrations.

How to host a Fishbowl?
Want to try hosting Fishbowls in your organization? Though getting started is as easy as publicly sharing invitations to standing team meetings, there are a few additional steps you can take to maximize Fishbowl benefits.

First, choose a time to start and alert team leaders or department heads that Fishbowls will be taking place. At Rotunda, we chose to bundle our Fishbowls into one week, with each department hosting a Fishbowl on different days of the week. By condensing Fishbowls into one week, we were able to build momentum and leverage the positive experience into actionable next steps. At the end of the week, employees felt more connected to each other and more confident in approaching colleagues from different departments with resources and requests.

Next, share team meeting agendas, access information, and set expectations for participation with all employees. Fishbowl observers should know that they aren’t expected to contribute to the meeting in real-time, but that they are encouraged to listen actively.

Finally, video record each Fishbowl and save recordings in a publicly accessible location such as a shared file system like Google Drive. If recording is not an option or your Fishbowls are in-person, assign a note taker and share the notes afterwards. These records can then be shared with new employees as part of onboarding, or reviewed at a later date for mention of specific tools or next steps to follow up on.

We all know that it’s imperative for employees to continue learning from and about other teams, especially when working remotely. Periodic Fishbowls are an easy way for teams to remain transparent, cross-departmental projects to become more efficient and enjoyable, and for your organization to stay nimble and strong.

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