The fish model for meettings

Many times I find myself in a meeting where attention of all the attendees is drifting and they are discussing all kind of matters, not always related to the meeting. This can have many causes like:

  • the stage was never set for the meeting. Attendees are not aware what the scope of the meeting is. If You Fail to Plan, You Are Planning to Fail by Benjamin Franklin
  • attendees were never trained to use focus, sometimes they are not aware this is one tool they can have in their tool belt (consciousness)
  • there is little awareness of people on what a meeting actually is. Who are the actors in the room? What do they want? What is expected from the meeting. Who should be invited? And the list of questions goes on. (awareness)

With this article I wanted to share a learning I got from a former mentor of mine. He called this technique the fish model. Fancy naming .. very catchy :)

I will refer to a meeting now that is meant to take technical decisions. This meeting very probably will start with some problem to solve like: how the heck are we going to implement this feature?

So people will start discussing context on the feature, there will be questions of the attendees. This is the phase where attendees will gather information. So we will be a state of diverging. We are literally expanding our knowledge on the matter. It is clear at this point that the information grows and grows and that at some point this needs to stop. This is when a next phase will need to be explored the converge phase. See the picture to have a visual effect on this:

As you can see by gathering information you make room to have more choices available for your decision process. After that you will narrow down your choices that will translate into actions. Being conscious about this dynamic will help the attendees, because they know exactly when and what they should raise at any moment and help a natural and efficient flow of the meeting.

What the heck was the fish thingy about then? Well let me show it you with a different perspective:

The famous fish

At the beginning of meeting is the head of the fish. Information is low and alignment and information gathering is needed. The more into the meeting you move to the body of the fish. That is when we’ve a lot of information and choices on the table. Finally we arrive at just before the tail of the fish where we’ll decide and narrow down the choices. This is where you’ll have your action items to translate into concrete tasks. At this stage the meeting is over.

The tail is already the implementation phase, engineers will dig into deep technical knowledge for the implementation but at this phase the choice was already made and the engineer continues to implement and document the feature.

Take it with a grain of salt (fish tastes better with salt), it’s not a perfect technique but it surely helps meetings to go smoother if everybody is aware of the game.