How many times have you been at a conference or event and had to do one of those silly team-building exercises? Maybe it was a trust fall, having to build something out of popsicle sticks, or doing an escape room with your coworkers. These activities are meant to make you collaborate with your team in a fun way outside of your normal interactions. 


In my experience, these games are good diagnostic tools. But if you don’t trust one of your teammates going into the activity, you are highly unlikely to have a changed opinion after you finish. And it might even end up having the opposite of the intended effect. 

The reason such team-building exercises don’t actually build trust on a team is because trust is built over time. Like we talked about in the article about Referent Power and trust, we grow to trust people who act on what they say they value. All of our experiences compound on one another. If you prove to be a consistent person through all of those experiences, then people will grow to trust you. 

A common place where trust on teams breaks down is in a failure to communicate clearly. A major barrier to communication is improper listening skills. Team-building exercises are meant to make us use our communication skills. But we first need to equip ourselves with the proper tools in order to carry out the actions we want to display. 


The formula for listening is humility + focus + curiosity. Each of these elements must be present and active to truly hear what the other person is saying. 


Good listening begins with recognizing that you don’t have all the answers. Therefore, the person you are listening to will have something valuable to offer. If you assume that you already know what they are communicating, then you are less likely to listen closely. Then you will miss valuable information. Begin with humility and posture yourself to receive from the sender, even if you are in a position of authority over them. 


You must put away all distractions in order to be able to listen effectively. We all know this to be true, but how often do we actually practice it? Even if we have the humility to understand that we have something to gain from the other person, we’re not going to learn that lesson unless we are focused on what they are saying. 


It’s one thing to concentrate on a message and try to remember its key points. It’s another thing to think about how that message relates to your goals and circumstances and ask questions based on the material. That is what it means to have curiosity in listening. 

This is a good opportunity to practice observational thinking. This is when you make a movie in your head as you listen to the narrative of what the other person is saying. If you get easily distracted, use this tool to stay focused and keep your mind on task while listening. 

Another way to stay on task is to practice active listening. This is when you repeat back information to the speaker in your own words to ensure that you both understand the same thing, asking questions for clarification throughout. 

The important thing to keep in mind with both of these listening methods is that your primary concern should be understanding their message, not waiting your turn to say your bit. 

When we listen to those on our teams, we make them feel like valuable members who have something important to contribute. It shows our respect for them and their ideas, and it builds a culture of listening and respect. And when we listen to and respect others and their ideas, it creates an environment for trust to grow. 

Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.