Accelerate Building Trust in the Workplace


Studies over the past few years have shown that trust can grow quickly among people from different backgrounds, given the right circumstances. As I’ve written before, high levels of trust is one of the cornerstones of great organizations. These new studies provide insights into exactly what kind of communication accelerates the growth of trust.

A New York Times article details this research. When two strangers are brought together for four, hour-long sessions and engaged in trust-building exercises, the results can be surprisingly long-lasting. In the first hour-long exercise, people share their responses to a list of questions, ranging from “would you like to be famous? In what way?” to “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”

In the second hour-long meeting, one pair competes against another in a series of games. In the third hour-long session, they talk about whether they are proud of their heritage and family background. Finally, in the fourth session, members of each pair take turns leading the other through a maze while blindfolded.

This research has fascinating implications for trust-building exercises in an organization. Our firm will often facilitate exercises with team members in which we ask them to talk about their proudest moment, or their scariest moment, and what they like most about the team, and what they like least. A second exercise consists of games in which teams compete against each other to fill a trash can with ping-pong balls and other silly tasks. A third session focuses on creating a shared vision of team success. And a fourth session often consists of trust-building exercises, such as leading a blindfolded partner through an obstacle course set up in the office.

These may seem trivial. But the research has shown the results to be long-lasting. These kinds of exercises create relationships “as close as any relationship the person has,” said Art Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University who developed the program described in The Times article (“Tolerance Over Race Can Spread, Studies Find”). http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/us/07race.html?scp=3&sq=racial%20tolerance&st=cse

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