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Work can be a scary place. As companies consistently seek great efficiency, coworkers become competitors and it's hard to tell if a supervisor is looking to guide workers to greater performance or deciding whether or not to cut them from the team. Too much distrust makes employees unhappy and unproductive. With this in mind, investing some time in building trust can help to build a better workforce and better bottom line.
Being vulnerable in a group can build trust. When one worker sees others doing the same thing, they realize that they're all in the same situation. Over time, safe vulnerability creates a willingness to be open and to take risks. One exercise to build this sense is to split a group into small teams of three or four people. On each team every person can share something embarrassing that happened to them. For the debrief, instead of asking people what embarrassing things they shared, ask them to talk about what it felt like to share something embarrassing.
This exercise works well in medium to large sized groups. In it, the group leader starts by asking "Who's got a dollar?" When someone raises their hand with the money, the leader walks over and asks the giver what they'd like to see the company be like. She then takes the dollar, gives it to someone else, and asks the recipient the same question. The process then repeats with $10 and $20. After the $20, the leader asks everyone to return the money and uses the exercise as an opportunity to talk about the importance of trust and to ask all the people in the room to describe their feelings and whether or not they participated.
The Mine Field
In the mine field exercise, you set up an indoor or outdoor obstacle course with chairs, boxes and other items where no one can see it. Match people into pairs and blindfold one of them. The person who isn't blindfolded will have to talk the blindfolded one through the course. Before taking them to the course, let them set up a strategy for communication. This can work particularly well if you match people that have trust issues.
One way to either build trust or to improve any trust building exercise is to mix it with lunch. Eating together creates a sense of camaraderie. It gives employees a chance to have casual connections with each other and to find areas of personal similarity. At its most basic level, it's also a basic human activity that everyone needs to do -- from CEO to custodian -- and, as such, can help to level the playing field.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.