How to Build Trust with Your Team? Don’t Drop Them.

Once at summer camp I was expected to trust my new group of campers enough to fall backwards from a platform onto their arms — for a “Trust Fall”. Don’t worry they won’t let you fall, said our counselor with a smile, as I stood terrified looking down at their puny arms. We’re only 10 years old, how are they going to catch me? I wondered. But, I was a young and she was older so I believed her. Trusted her. Trusted them. I fell backwards blindly.

And kept falling…through their arms all the way to the ground right into the dirt with a thud. As I brushed the dirt off my bruised butt, I suggested they change the name of the exercise to just “Fall”. You can imagine how the rest of that summer went.

Now I’m older and I understand what my counselor was trying to do. I know that groups and teams need trust to be productive, to perform well, to accomplish goals, and to overcome challenges. But how to build trust is often elusive to new leaders. I’ve been a part of and have run many team-building exercises and workshops, and the successful ones — you guessed it — do not include Trust Falls.

The first step to building trust is to allow team members to get to know each other beyond job titles and functions, as real human beings. Trust grows from empathy and relating to others. This means facilitating a safe space where this can happen.

One easy and fun tool to break the ice and connect with new people is called “3 Things in 3 Minutes”. My friend and fellow facilitator (Kiely Sweatt) and I used it in a recent team-building workshop with the Tourist Office of Spain for 100 people.

Ask the group to stand up and find a partner, someone they haven’t met yet. The pairs have 3 minutes to find 3 things in common, but they must discover deeper similarities than “we both have brown hair”, and more like “we both have 3 year-old daughters”. Tell them to cut out the small talk and get to the meat of who they both are — what drives them, what are they passionate about, what matters to them the most?

The workplace is still about people and we all have dreams and quirks and pet peeves, and the sooner we share them the quicker we can collaborate.

Do you have any other useful, engaging team-building exercises? Share away.

Do you want to try some new approaches to leading a team? Join my lunchtime workshop on Dec. 6th in NYC.

Originally published at