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Trust Falling

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Trust Falling

For the past 10 years I’ve been involved with a Boy Scout high adventure program called Project COPE. The goals of COPE are to develop skills in communication, planning, teamwork, trust, leadership, decision making, problem solving, and self-esteem. The program is developed around a series of initiative games, more complicated low ropes elements, and ultimately a full blown high adventure course that puts you some 30 to 40 feet up in the trees.

This past weekend I took 17 teenagers and 4 adults out for a weekend of team building in the woods. You never know quite what to expect as every group is different. You can count on each weekend to be very powerful, and if you are open, you’ll learn a lot about your team, and about yourself, in the process. If you are interested in learning more about the program, you can click here for some additional information.

This weekend did not disappoint. We started off with rain Friday night, but by mid-day on Saturday, the weather was beautiful. By lunch we had a group of strangers learning to work together, communicating, and beginning to coalesce into a team. We played skin the snake and marshmallow river. We learned to safely catch a falling team member, went on a blindfolded walk through the woods, and discovered how to walk on a high tension wire using pivot points.

By the end of the first day, the team was ready for the trust fall. The trust fall begins on a platform about 5 feet off the ground. The idea is that you fall backwards into the waiting arms of your team members, who safely catch you, and gently lower you to the ground. For many, this level of trust is very difficult and doing the event is a very powerful and emotional experience.

I was the facilitator of this event and as such, the first to fall. Aside from reminding them about proper falling technique, I want to demonstrate my trust in them, and show them I believe in their ability to catch me. It always helps getting the less enthusiastic participants over their fear when I go first… well… except Saturday. You see, the team said they were ready for my fall, but in reality, they didn’t know quite what to expect.

They dropped me.

They broke my fall a little, but I basically went through their arms and hit the ground. I wasn’t injured too badly, a little bruised maybe, but now I needed to quickly figure out what to do. In ten years of doing trust falls, never once had I been dropped. What now? I had a team that had just spent an entire day learning how to trust each other. Our whole event was at risk.

I got up, dusted myself off, and began to debrief what just happened. The team acknowledged they had not been ready. I acknowledged that I had not done a good job making sure they were clear what needed to happen and the potential ‘impact’ of failure. We talked about what needed to happen differently next time. Everyone was on board and ready to try again. We recommitted as a team.

I was a little sore and decided to let one of my instructors go next. I guess I wasn’t ready to trust again so quickly. We ended up getting everyone to do the fall and the team felt good they had recovered. Once everyone was through, they asked me to fall again. I was a little reluctant because once trust is broken it is difficult to get it back. As their leader, I needed to repair the relationship and show them that I was willing to give them a second chance, so I fell.

They caught me.

I asked them at the final debrief why it was so important for me to fall a second time. They said that while it was important for them to trust each other, they wanted to earn back my trust. As their leader, I was part of the team. It was a good weekend.

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Comments (2)

  1. Rick Austin

    Great post! It is inspiring to observe the amazing feats accomplished by teams that “gel”. Trust is that elemental ingredient for gelled teams. If we trust each other we watch each other’s back, we team members in need, we feel able to question and debate, and as a team member we depend upon each other when the going gets tough. In software development, the going gets tough, a lot. We need that trust.


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