Let me smell your stinky 🐟

How to run and lead successful teams. Key takeaways from our «Try, Test, Fail… Prevail» Leadership and Team Development workshop with Hyper Island.

Dan Nessler
Nov 6, 2018 · 6 min read
Honest & relatable «stinky fish» by a workshop participant

In an intense and immersive one-day event Hyper Island’s Tash Willcocks and Sarah Gee led over 60 participants through three of the four stages of the team development process (Wheelan’s integrated model of group development).

  • Stage 1 – Dependency and inclusion
  • Stage 2 – Counter dependency and conflict
  • Stage 3 – Trust & Structure
  • Stage 4 – Performance and Productivity

Key takeaway:

A sharing, open and «yes, and» mindset is a key ingredient to leadership and running well functioning and successful teams.


Stage 1 — Dependency and Inclusion

To kick off our workshop, similar to what you should do when starting a new team to get to know everyone. Getting to know your team is not about boasting about your great achievements and the highlights of your CV. It’s about sharing something personal and relatable. After all, we are all carrying backpacks full of worries, concerns and fears.

Getting to know your team is not about boasting about your great achievements and the highlights of your CV.

Being aware of one another’s burdens helps us be aware, sympathize and act accordingly. The «stinky fish» is a simple but effective tool to share and it’s a metaphor for the burdens we carry around. The longer we carry and hide our burdens the stinkier they get.

Lots of stinky fish from the workshop participants

Sharing something personal creates an open environment in which people can trust and rely on each other.

The Joahari Widow is about self-awareness and our perception of others.

Transferring this mindset to your workplace and helps create a state of common understanding, knowledge, goals and purpose. One way to do so is to collaboratively apply the «idoart» framework. Utilizing this framework lifts your team on the same page.

Stage 1 is all about setting the stage and getting everyone on board. Usually, there are few conflicts but members depend on a leader and a clear structure to build a strong team foundation.


Stage 2 — Counter dependency & Conflict

No matter how well your team kicks off. Eventually, and after some time working together, conflicts are inevitable. Subteams and alliances form, competition and stress kick in and strong leadership becomes ever more important.

Intro to the «yes, and…» exercise simulating the often present «no» or «yet, but» mindset as a root of conflict and a «yes, and» approach to avoid it in the first place.

In stage 2 and when conflicts are reality, it is crucial to find and dig out the roots. Reflecting, identifying and repeatedly asking why (5-why method) helps. This applies to both individuals and teams. Avoiding conflicts may be convenient and easier in the short but more destructive in the long run. Remember the stinky fish. Even if you manage to temporarily bury issues, they will still linger around and rot until they suddenly rise again in the wake of a new conflict.

Avoiding conflicts may be convenient and easier in the short but more destructive in the long run.

Working in teams always involves a content-related business and a process related cultural side. One side does not exclude the other. Regular self- and team-reflections and feedback sessions are great tools to uncover issues before they turn into conflicts.

Content & Process Model by Hyper Island

Though, neither giving nor receiving feedback are easy, both require us to comply with certain rules, respect and common norms («I appreciate…» feedback tool»). In the end when executed thoroughly and with caution, feedback is a gift that helps us improve and become better at what we do.


Stage 3 — Trust & Structure

Once you and your colleagues have navigated through stage 2 and its related conflicts you should have grown as a team. Trust, clarity about roles, goals, individual behaviours and a common «we» sentiment set in. This is when you start identifying yourself with your team.

In a one-day workshop participants usually remain in phase 1 and may just get a glimpse of what phase 2 and 3 could look like. To replicate the process of moving from stage 1 to 3 we split the entire group into small teams and turned them into fictional pizza restaurants. In the so-called «pizza challenge» each team was given the task to run a little enterprise, self-organise as a team and produce a maximal amount of pizzas under certain constraints. Obviously, some struggled more than others.

Pizza production at its peak

As guest speaker Stefan Jost put it:

«People want to do a good job, work in engaging teams and build meaningful products. But often they fail.»

In our case, we repeated the exercise giving the participants the opportunity to reflect on their performance, iterate and improve. Unsurprisingly, each team performed much better and improved collaboration after a realignment of how they had collaborated earlier. They terminated their team conducting a final feedback and reflection session that left a lot of happy faces in the room.

The steps of receiving feedback based on the Swedish National Defence College

One participant commented:

«I have never gotten such deep and constructive feedback in my job as I did after this short but intense exercise.»

The golden feedback rule:

Always ask to get feedback and always ask for permission to give feedback.


Stage 4 — Performance and Productivity

Although not part of the workshop, some pizza teams got a vague idea of being in stage 4 as they saw their pizza production go through the roof. Once clear about tasks, goals, objectives and the team as a whole, issues or problems provide an opportunity for further development.

With effective conflict management tools and strategies in place, opposing views are no longer a threat but a valuable asset in the creative and constructive process.

Feedback session after a successful pizza challenge

We trust one another, stand up for each other and communicate openly and honestly, which fosters a feeling of belonging, security and well-being to every team member. Stage 4 is the holy grail a team can find. Getting there isn’t without a lot of sweat and getting lost on the way.

But with the right tools at your disposal and the common mindset established reaching this stage is quest worth venturing on.

Back to the beginning & conclusion…

A sharing, open and «yes, and» mindset is a key ingredient to leadership and running well functioning and successful teams. Embrace it.


This is an wrap-up of our «Try, test, fail… Prevail» Team Development & Leadership workshop, led by Hyper Island in collab with & at Hinderling Volkart, Zurich, Switzerland on 3rd Nov 2018.

If you would like to hear or learn more get in touch with Sarah Gee (Project Manger, Hyper Island) or Dan Nessler (Head of UX, Hinderling Volkart).


If you would like to read more from Hinderling Volkart and our team, give us some claps & follow our publication – THX: https://medium.com/hinderlingvolkart

Hinderling Volkart

Hinderling Volkart creates outstanding web experiences, business portals, corporate platforms and digital products. In this publication, the folks at the agency share their thoughts and ideas about Design, Code, Tech, UX and anything related or perhaps unrelated to the industry.

Dan Nessler

Written by

Head Of UX Design @hvzh | Lecturer @hkb_MAComDes @fhhwz @zhdk | MA in #dxd @HyperIsland | formerly w/ @scholzfriendsCH @JvM_Limmat

Hinderling Volkart

Hinderling Volkart creates outstanding web experiences, business portals, corporate platforms and digital products. In this publication, the folks at the agency share their thoughts and ideas about Design, Code, Tech, UX and anything related or perhaps unrelated to the industry.

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