The Stinky Fish Exercise: Opening Up and Taking Action

Continuing our deep dive into team exercises from our recent offsite, let's talk about a fish. A stinky one 🐟

The Stinky Fish exercise prompts open discussion about concerns, fears, and challenges that we may be avoiding.

Addressing the Stinky Fish Exercise

The goal is to start an honest discussion and define concrete action plans for resolving each issue. I would budget at least 2 (up to 4) hours for this session. You want the team to "get real" and open up, and also make sure you have enough time to wrap up with action items.

Trust me, this isn't easy. It takes courage (psychological safety) to share vulnerabilities and fears, but our team's willingness to engage so honestly was truly inspiring. It demonstrated the strength of our collective trust, and made us more resilient as a team. 💪

Unattended issues don’t magically vanish – they end up contaminating the entire team. Just like if you let a fish rot in your fridge, everything will soon smell bad. Not addressing your stinky fish will only make things worse for the team.

To facilitate this exercise, I recommend using the Stinky Fish Canvas and have each person individually write their uncertainties/fears/anxieties/concerns on sticky notes. Then, pair folks up to discuss and pick their top 3 items. 📄

Stinky Fish Canvas

You can merge or shuffle groups until you have a sufficient set of unique items in each quadrant.

Have the team categorize their selected top issues into "quick wins" and "big wins." 🎯

Rank and Select Top Issues

Finally (and this is the most important step), define what needs to be done to address these issues and assign owners and set a timeline. Spread out the tasks to empower individual members of the team. Now that they've identified the problems, help them be part of the solution.

Define Course of Action: Identify an Action Plan Define Course of Action: Have a Meaningful Conversation

As the weeks go on after this exercise, be sure to do regular check-ins with the group to ensure everyone is making progress on their tasks and that it's having the intended effect. If not, it may be time to do the exercise again and identify new issues or action items. 🤔

So, here's to airing out those stinky fish, together! Having these difficult conversations helps our teams grow. Resist the natural urge to sweep things under the rug, and foster a culture of honest and open communication. 🥰