Entrepreneurial Operating System: 4 Great Trust Building Exercises

Trust is a critical component in any team. Team members need to be able to rely on each other to be supportive, honest, and dependable. And, teams that don’t trust each other to be those three things are doomed to fail. Trust doesn’t come easy, and there is no “short cut” to team building. It takes hard work, dedication, and constant vigilance. Whether your team is struggling with trust, looking for new ways to reinforce existing trust, or getting started on a rewarding EOS® journey, these trust building exercises will help turn individuals into a functioning team.


A lot of folks mock trust building exercises, because they associate the phrase with things like “trust falls” and other silly corporate seminar tropes. Those activities are often cheesy showmanship that create flash-in-the-pan moments of trust. I am talking about something entirely different. These exercises are focused on building strong, lasting trust that comes from understanding and respect. Like anything else worth doing, these exercises aren’t always easy. But, they proven effective methods of building true empathy and perspective among individuals. These exercises aren’t just for teams running on the Entrepreneurial Operating System®. But, they will be especially effective, if you are.

1: Tag Team (20-30 minutes)

This activity uses creative story telling to encourage positive behavioral change recommendations.

How To Do It:

Split your team into even groups. Ideally, you will have 3 or more people in each group. Groups break off into a space where they can privately converse (within reason). Each person tells their group one or two of their individual strengths, something they feel they bring to the company as a whole. They explain what makes them think this is a strength and provide a few examples of when they have benefited the company by displaying this attribute. 

The group then spends about 10 minutes drawing a team avatar, a super-powered fictional employee that possesses all of the positive attributes of their group. They give this fictional employee a name and a back story as well as a description of what they do for the company.

When all groups are done, they share their fictional employee’s powers, story, and name with the other groups.

Why It’s Important:

This exercise is deceptively simple. On the surface it benefits the team’s confidence in themselves and each other. As they build this super-powered employee, they get a chance to recognize their own strengths, and those of their team mates. The effect is a fairly immediate feeling of positivity as the group recognizes that together they are capable of quite a bit.

There is another layer, though. By explaining their own strengths to create a super hero, team members are also recognizing two very important things. First, they are seeing how much other members of the team bring to the table, and recognizing their contribution. Second, by recognizing that each person on the team has specific strengths, they are also coming to terms with the fact that they themselves can’t be this super-powered employee. This realization encourages team members to see and accept their own weaknesses. Recognizing these weaknesses and seeing how their coworkers compliment is the first step in seeing themselves as part of something bigger than the individuals.


2:  5 Minutes of Staring (5 Minutes)

This trust building exercise is simple and direct. It addresses one of the most important aspects of trust — being comfortable with confidence. 

How To Do It:

Have participants break into teams of two. Then, ask everyone to remove glasses, sunglasses, or anything else that blocks the eye. Participants should sit or stand about five feet from each other. Set a timer for one minute and ask everyone to keep sustained eye contact with their partner. After the minute is up, everyone takes a quick break — 10 seconds is enough. Then, they make eye contact again with the same partner for one more minute. Switch partners and repeat the process for round 3 and round 4. Then, return to your original partner for round 5.

Why It’s Important:

Not everyone is completely comfortable with eye contact, especially sustained eye contact. Maintaining eye contact can make many people feel as if they are creating conflict. In some ways, they are right. Eye contact forces your mind to consider the other person explicitly. It eliminates distractions in the mind, bringing your thoughts into that exact moment, the one you are sharing with that person.

This experience can be very powerful. When individuals share sustained eye contact, several very beneficial things happen. First, the initial discomfort with eye contact can be overcome. As eye contact is one of the primary ways we show we are listening attentively (and a method for improving active listening), this exercise immediately improves the communication of the team. Second, the shared experience can vastly improve individuals’ willingness to be vulnerable with each other as having someone stare at you is a disarming experience.


3: Chasing Pain (30 Minutes)

This is by far the most intense exercise in this article. By following the thoughts associated with a physical pain, team members are able to learn a great deal about each other. However, this should only be attempted in teams that already have a strong, trusting relationship. Using this to start building trust could lead to awkward moments or people not being comfortable at work.

How To Do It:

Split your team into pairs. One member of each pair will start by naming a physical pain or discomfort somewhere in their body. It can be an old injury, a sore neck, indigestion, whatever. Their partner will then “chase the pain” by asking about the first memory of that pain. What follows is a series of questions in which the goal is for the person describing their pain to elaborate on what might have caused it, their feelings about it, how they deal with it, and how it affects them. If the team member answers thoughtfully, they can often learn a lot about themselves. After about 15 minutes, they switch.

Why It’s Important:

Creating this dialogue allows members of your team to explore personal struggles together. The physical pain is the target of the conversation, because it is impersonal enough to minimize discomfort, while personal enough to encourage a good amount of sharing. Strong teams will learn how they can better support each other on a personal level as well as a professional level. They will also strengthen personal friendships and trust relationships through this vulnerability.

4: Would You Rather

This is, admittedly, the least serious trust building exercise that I want to introduce. It is a simple, often silly game that takes zero preparation, but can lead to a lot of personality exploration. 

How To Do It:

Prepare a list of questions that follow the theme “Would your rather X or Y”. You can easily find lists of these questions anywhere on the internet and choose one that works for your group. This is a fairly G-Rated list, but there are lists ranging from explicit content to sports themed. Whatever works for your company culture works. Just make sure you aren’t making anyone uncomfortable with the questions.

Print off your list or write the questions out on cards. Put the cards in a deck and shuffle them up. Deal out a card to each person at the table. On each person’s turn, they will ask the question out loud and answer it themselves. Encourage them to elaborate on the reasons for their answer. Then, the person to their right answers the same question, elaborates on their answer, and repeats the process.

Why It’s Important:

Honestly, you would be very surprised at some of your coworkers answers, and questions that seem irreverent and silly can often lead to insights about a colleague that you never would have gained in normal conversation.


How To Do It:

Why It’s Important:

Posted in

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.