Building trust shouldn’t be stressful

Trust building without the stress and anxiety

How to build trust

Building trust in teams is as important today as it ever has been.

“Right! We are going to do a trust-building exercise.”

Cue the groans and the stress levels increasing throughout the team as the team leaders or facilitator break out the blindfold or ask you to pair up.

Have we been doing the wrong thing when attempting to build trust?

What do we get wrong in traditional trust-building exercises?

Traditional trust-building exercises are likely to cause more distrust than actually build trust within a team. Think of the “fall back” exercise where one participant has to trust the other and fall back into their partner’s arms, or the one where the participant is lead around a course by their partner whilst blindfolded. Instant stress for many participants.

Why is this? Well, let us look at what actually happens when you ask someone to fall back in another person’s arms.

Firstly, their stress levels increase and their anxiety starts to build, especially so if they are introverted for whatever reason. “What if it goes wrong? What if this person thinks they are funny?” The thing that is happening here is that we are explicitly getting people to question the trustworthiness of their partners or team mates. If something does go wrong, accidentally perhaps or not so accidentally perhaps, then we have seriously damaged a person’s ability to trust others and trust anything else we might do with them in the session.

But what is the gain, are we really building trust in our team or are we just testing trust?

In order to succeed in these exercises, we expect participants to trust one another without actually doing anything to build that trust. We are only testing the trust we generally have in strangers and that is not likely to be a deep trust that is conducive to being a team that performs well together.

A man trusts another man when he sees enough of himself in him.

– Gregory David Roberts – Author

How can we actually build trust?

To figure out how we can start building trust in our teams we need to look at what trust really is. Trust has been well studied and we know that trust is deeply entwined with our emotional responses and can vary dependent on the situation. The Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei highlight three elements that help us to build trust.

The three elements of Trust

  • Authenticity
  • Rigour in logic
  • Empathy

We come across these words a lot and there are emotional dimensions to how we often use them. We can get a gut feeling about someone and it is often based on these elements but we may not have been consciously viewing them in the other person.

Authenticity is apparent when someone is true to themselves and is working from their own set of values and principles, it is hard to fake and people are likely to trip up if they do attempt to fake it.

Rigour in logic is important as it allows us to see the intent other people apply to their work, relationships and so on.

Empathy is the tough one as it is the one where it takes time, the one where we need to build that relationship between us. We have to spend some time creating empathy and often we feel too busy to spend that time.

If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress.

– Frances Frei – Harvard Business School Professor

Fun & Games to build trust

We find that trust is best built using fun games that work to put people into the same state. rather than in exercises where there is a hierarchy or power dynamic. One of our favourite games that help to build trust is one that we call clumping but may well go by other names.

The basics of the activity are that everyone is in a circle together having warmed up a little through some fun exercises. The facilitator shouts a word, for example, “Elephant”, and a number of people (5 or 6 seems to work well) jump into the middle to make a scene, like a still image version, with their physicality.

This activity helps to build that empathy as people start to align their levels of awkwardness and silliness trusting that others will join them if they lead the way and trusting enough to join a scene once someone has started it. The activity helps people to relax as it goes along too as it becomes fun and participants start to laugh which aids the release of dopamine which reduces stress.

How we can help

At MundoNovus we have many more games and liberating structures or activities and can bring these into your organisation, building trust in your teams. We will work with you to develop a team or sets of teams that actively listen to one another and build solutions together.

We also create structures and equip you with methods that will uncover knowledge within the organisation that has until now been silent or unnoticed. This will move your organisation along towards becoming as creative and forward-thinking as possible.

And, who knows? We may even create a team of creative geniuses who support each other.

Adults play too (or should).

– Julie Lythcott-Haims – Contemporary American educator

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!

By: Mart Gordon

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