A fellow facilitator recently contacted me to ask for ideas about an exercise around trust for a team session. And she specified that it shouldn’t be childish or goofy (her words) like the famous “trust fall” exercise since this is a senior executive team.

Trust is a word we often use lightly. A key point to understand is that trust exists only at the level of two people. An easy way to think about this: if A trusts B and A trusts C, then this does not mean that there is trust in the team A, B, C. In fact, it is possible that B and C don’t trust each other. So you cannot put 8 people in a circle and say “let’s now build trust in this team”. It starts at the level of the different pairs.

When I work around trust, I always start with the pairs. The trust between pairs will become the trust within the team as a whole.

My favorite exercise is the “hot seat”. Each person takes turn sitting in the hot seat, and the others, one by one, give feedback about this person. Round one follows the “I appreciate that you do/say this or that and I suggest you continue doing it” structure. Round two is “I think it would be great for the team if you could start/stop doing/saying this or that”. The person receiving the feedback can only say “Thank you” and not react in any other way. If done consciously, this can go quite fast and it is typically well received by all participants. There is sometimes laughter and sometimes genuine reflection and appreciation.

You won’t build trust in a single session. But there is a way to get started.