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Introduction to Trust Building Activities

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Introduction to Trust Building Activities

Trust is a core psychological and interpersonal issue.  Trust building activities help people to develop mutual respect, openness, understanding, and empathy, as well as helping to develop communication and teamwork skills.

Trust building exercises can be adapted for virtually any setting, with young and old, indoors or outdoors, and are often used used in experiential workshops, training seminars, personal and social skill programs, physical education, team building, school groups, sport teams, youth work, and in therapeutic and correctional settings.

Trust building activities can break down barriers and build deep feelings of trust and reliance between individuals and within small groups.  However, the power of these activities is a double-edged sword, thus caution needs to be be used in selecting and conducting trust-based activities.  If trust activities are introduced too early or too fast, emotional and/or physical harm can occur, with trust broken rather than built.  For example, many trust building activities involve people being blindfolded and guided by others.  It is vital to demonstrate and actively encourage a high level of care and responsibility towards people in these exercises who take the risk of trusting.  It is not OK to have a blindfolded and trusting person walk into a wall or low bench.

Attention should be also paid to the background of specific groups and consideration needs to be given to the variety of individual responses which can emerge.  Avoid doing trust activities too soon; it is better to wait until a group is ready.  Initially, try icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities before introducing trust building activities.  Group members should already have come to accept each other and demonstrated individual responsibility before tackling trust building activities.  It is common to explain the concept of Challenge by Choice so that participation in trust activities is not compulsory.

Much depends on the role played by the facilitator.  Since participants are being asked to take psychological and physical risks by trusting other people, it is important to establish a serious, concentrating, caring atmosphere.  The facilitator also needs to step in assertively if he/she observes or senses that full care isn't being taken.  In some cases it may be preferable to stop a trust activity and do a simpler exercises if a significant lack of trust and responsibility is evident.  Many facilitators will undertake some form of Full Value Contract with a group so as to make expectations about respect, support, and care of fellow group participants explicit.

Make sure that the entire group is aware that there is no room for any anti-trust behavior including jokes or comments. Something that seems harmless to an individual can easily be perceived as horrifying to the person who is about to fall off a table into the groupís waiting arms. That falling person does not want to hear some tasteless comment about "Hope we donít drop you."

These activities are for the whole group to come together and it doesnít do that very well if you have to remove group members but if the rest of the group is ready for these activities and are being held back by only one or two people, remove them. Consider removing them right out of the room so that they are unable to interfere in any way with the group.

Processing, reflecting on, and communicating about trust experiences can help participants to explore and better understanding their feelings and reactions to trust building activities and their relationships with others involved in the activities.

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James Neill
Last updated:
28 April 2013