In a Teambuilding group on LinkedIn, I posted up some questions around what activities existed for games focused on the issues of building trust and being trustworthy. The literature seems to have three main things, the “Trust Walk” kinds of activities, the “Red / Black” or prisoner’s dilemma exercise (also called Win as Much as You Can) exercise framework and then the various “Trust Card” kinds of self-disclosure / conversational kinds of things.

Trust walks are okay and often memorable, because there is some perceived physical risk and also the kinesthetic aspects of them that make for memorable events. But many people comment that walking around or falling backwards is not all that similar to what happens at work, that the links are okay but not really good. (I guess I can liken it to doing paintball or go-kart racing to business process improvement…)

Red / Black is a classic prisoner’s dilemma game — you can find it a lot of places as a freebie (or here) or sold as some packaged program. The literature on this comes from the 1970s, when I was first exposed to it. Individuals or teams vote and decisions influence the results — it has to do with trust and a lot of people know about the exercise, so they tend to skew results or make the framework unpredictable when one uses it in a training program.

Card Decks and Disclosure exercises — There are different card decks out there and a variety of frameworks where people and groups can sit and talk about trust and trusting and their personal perspectives on why trust is given or taken away. They share personal disclosures, though, and often people are uncomfortable with those kinds of activities, There can be different ramifications to disclosing personal information in workplace situations, also.

Trust is a real, as well as common organizational culture issue:

Trust - pushing or pulling bubble

What I am looking for is something new and different, something anchored into behavior that has business implications and applications, something that senior managers can use for framing up organizational cultural issues or that trainers and consultants can use to link to organizational change and performance improvement.

Frank NavranMy basic anchor point is my old friend Frank Navran’s quote:

Trust is the residue of promised fulfilled.

He shared that with me 20 years ago and it still rings true. Trust is behaviorally-anchored and it builds up over time. The residue of trust can also be quickly washed away by a single act.

Sharon Quarrington and I have been engaging in filling out a LinkedIn discussion thread on the subject of behavior and trust and games. And I see her thoughts as really right on target in how she thinks about these issues and how she frames up some behavioral activities. So, I thought to publish parts of our most recent exchange, with my comments in blue, hers in black and my highlights in red:

I read and reread your post and had a few comments and thoughts. Your reactions to those would also be appreciated, as this conversation IS stimulating my overall thinking around this issue. I will insert some thoughts into your text.

(in a game where not all of the rules were given to the participants):
None of the clients “guessed” the solution, they all thought it was a strategy game and when the reveal happened, they “got” that collaboration would have helped them all achieve their goal – but only intellectually. During the break the conversation focused on how if they had understood the rules they would have won the game – so the real learning was about probing to ensure the rules were understood. 

This was day 1 of a 3 day event (remember those?) and for the rest of the event every time a new exercise was introduced the group followed up every set of instructions with detailed questioning of the facilitator in order to identify further tricks…

So they learned not to trust the facilitator – oops. 

Yeah, the good old days of multi-day sessions. Now, they want you to compress a full day’s training into an hour and expect something to actually change. There was a question about designing a “training flag” in one of the groups and people were sharing ideas for flag design. My thought was that it should be a black flag, like the old poison logo of that name, with a dead bug with its legs in the air and little fume markings, since that is how most senior executives seem to view “training and development” these days.

It will be interesting to see if that flag generates any dialog — I actually chose NOT to get responses to that thread and will pop back in there in a day or two…

I used to do something similar in our program – left out some details and all I got was push back from the group to say that if they knew all the rules they would have responded differently. So I started giving them all the rules and to my surprise found that as long as I also give them a time restricted task they almost always focus so much on the time goal that anything else is forgotten. (sometimes they say they could have planned better if they had more time but that is easy to counter as in real life we never have time to fully plan so you do your best, learn from it ant move on).

My thought is to never intentionally leave out any details, but to offer the players choices.

In Lost Dutchman, teams can choose to get one or two “videos” that have information that, “teams find useful” but they have to give up one or two of their 20 days in order to get it. They can also choose to team up with another team and get one each or they could choose to share the information with other teams after they acquire it.

They contain strategic planning and best practice information that IS useful to that team and useful for optimizing the GROUP’s performance — the goal is to mine as much gold as WE can but they tend to miss the issue that “we” means something other than “My Team.”

I want my facilitators to be able to act impeccably in their leadership of the exercise. Leaders should always be there to help and teams need to ask for help in order to optimize real-world results.

Teams seldom ask for help.

In this case you could try telling them that there are no restrictions on the conversations they can have and that the overall goal is to maximize the resources – then tell them they only have 3 min to plan and 1 min to bid and likely they will spend all their time in their own group. In the end the debrief can be around why we stick in our silos, how the time goal overshadowed all other goals and reduced creativity and collaboration, how easy it is to forget the big picture – overall goal of the organization when you focus on the small – maximizing team effectiveness.

My thought on the Silent Auction is to label it as silent and tell teams that the “rule” is that they cannot talk. But the reality is that there is no enforcement of any punishment or reaction if they DO talk, and they could always ask if they can. The issue is that silence might be better for facilitating the excise and keeping things under control, but it sure is NOT better for impacting the performance of the group. 

My other thought is that the exemplary performers pretty much always bend or break the stupid rules that constrain results and it is something that I try to blend into my games. CJ allows some rule-bending and I&I is all about bending the rules to improve play and results.

If you only do the exercise once the experience is one of not achieving the goal – and the learning (collaboration works better) doesn’t stick If you debrief and redo the exercise they get to experience how success works and feels.

In both Collaboration Journey and Innovate & Implement, they can be played again since a detailed explanation of the rules of play is not required.

An alternative – the challenge would be to make the longest and most complicated domino run – 5 min to plan 5 min to build- their assumption would be that the teams are competing rather than collaborating. First round debrief could include congratulations to the leading teams – and then tell them that you want to take it to the next level and work together – so no “gotcha” but instead a challenge. I prefer to avoid exercises that are designed for participants to fail and then learn comes from failure – why not set them up for success in the first round and even more success the second – so they can see incremental learning and improved results. No one likes to fail and the emotional response, particularly in high competitive types can negate learning.

In Dutchman, every team is somewhat successful, and some are much more successful than others because of planning and information and better resource management.

In the debriefing, I do not focus on the low performing teams but on the high performing teams, basically asking about why they CHOSE to not share information or resources with the others since I, as Expedition Leader, am trying to optimize the overall results of my organization and not one team over another.

Competition is an issue of balancing it with collaboration, when it comes to organizational performance results.

I allow a LOT of time for discussion and tabletop work. We do NOT lecture much at all, simply trying to connect the dots from the play and choices in the game to the play and choices in the workplace.

Both rounds would still be done in teams but the second round adds the need to collaborate and be proactive around problem solving (so they don’t bump into each other… – the trick is to leave a gap between sets that only gets filled at the last second).

One of the guys who facilitated the exercise used to stop play in the middle and have lunch, using the lunch time to challenge the tabletop teams to rethink the choices they were making and to identify ideas for things they could do differently when play resumed. I actually built a resource management toolkit of forms for summary of resources and stuff like that. I have never personally done things that way, though.

They can experience how the collaborative domino run is more spectacular. You might get 3 rounds if the larger domino failed the first time – it doesn’t really matter as long as they succeed in the long run – let them problem solve each time it doesn’t work.

The final debrief could focus on the difference between working in silos and working together – what helps, what hinders, what extra challenges their are, what extra rewards…

So, I thank Sharon for sharing some interesting thoughts on how she addresses issues of trust in her training programs. Sharon also works with horses in her team building and leadership training. Horses are just so sensitive to issues of trust and leadership and give instant feedback about good things being done with them.

And, the development of the new PMC Trust exercise continues…

square wheels author

For the FUN of It!



Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools focused on people and performance. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is a globally experienced presenter and consultant.


You can reach Scott at

Read Scott’s blogging on people and performance improvement


Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.


Also published on Medium.