Lessons From The MouseTrap Challenge

Conversations – especially in a team scenario can often be like an Adventure. We know for sure where we are starting from, but like rivulets that find their own path as they gather momentum, if you ride along with them, you often reach such unexpected destinations.

One of the pleasures of being a Facilitator is being a part of such rides. The place was Goa and the activity we were conducting was called, “Mouse Trap”. As the name goes, the activity involved, “arming” a real life miniature mouse-trap and then, “dis-engaging” it. The activity involves a slight risk that, if not done carefully, the clamp could come down quite painfully on one of the fingers. As in most experiential activities though, the bark was scarier than the bite.

The challenge was rolled out in 3 stages:

1) Where a person armed and disarmed the device by himself

2) Where a person armed the device, but was then subsequently blindfolded. A person he/she trusted then guided him in disarming the device.

3) Same as the second scenario, but where a relative stranger (in place of the trusted person) helped guide the blindfolded person in disarming the device.

The debrief of this activity made for quite an engrossing discussion, taking all of us to a new definition and understanding of trust. Let me recount the experience:

Not surprisingly there was an unanimous agreement that the first round was by and far the easiest – and the third round the toughest. Afterall, we do find it much easier to trust ourselves rather than to trust strangers. At this stage, lets ride the conversation as it flowed…

“But why is it so difficult to trust relative strangers or new people in your teams?”, we posed rhetorically.

“Because we don’t know them well enough”. “Because we are not sure they have our best interests in mind”. “Because they could hurts us”. The responses came thick and fast.

“So, are we saying we hold someone guilty, till he proves his innocence?”

“Not really holding them guilty – but we need to protect ourselves”.

“Protect yourselves from what?”

“From the possibility of being betrayed or let down”.

“So, do all of us believe that there is a greater chance of being let down by someone new we have to work with – rather than say an older colleague?”

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There was a pregnant pause in the room.

“Not really”… “It depends”…. There was some nervous laughter too… “Well, sometimes there is a greater chance of being let down by people we know too”. Smiles all around.

“Would it be fair to say then, that there is atleast an equal chance of being let down by someone we know well?” The group by and large seemed to agree.

“Why then do we begin with an implicit need to “protect ourselves” from the new people or relatively lesser known people in the team?”. “Is it something to do with our culture or our hyper competitiveness?”

“Maybe it’s a conditioning that all of us go through, because of the many instances of betrayals and fraud that we keep reading in newspapers”, someone proferred.

“So, when do we, in that case – begin to trust someone?”

“Maybe after they have earned it in some way”

“Earn – as in, first prove innocence?” “Isn’t it as if each of us has this measuring scale, where we mentally measure up each person we meet to say – “ok you make the grade”, “sorry you don’t”. Do something to prove you have “earned” my trust…. or else too bad”

Laughter again. But out here it seemed like the penny had dropped. The team looked like it was now ready to explore a better way.

“Is there an alternate way to “earning” trust?”

Almost immediately someone said: “Maybe we can start by “giving” trust”.

“Wow – that is a really interesting take. What does that mean?”

“Giving trust as in not waiting for every new person we come across to prove themselves to us – that they are in some way “worthy” of being trusted.”

The collective intelligence of the group seemed to jump up 10 points at this instance. It was as if this new insight suddenly gave them a new way of thinking about trust.

“Giving trust as in maybe making ourselves “vulnerable” to being let down”

“But you know very often trust begets trust”, another added.

“Giving trust as in – opening up ourselves to newer colleagues, without feeling apprehensive of being taken advantage of”

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“Giving trust as in – believing that innately people are good – and not out to harm us. And if they feel trusted, they become trust worthy themselves”

“But guys, all this we have talked about – is this just theory or does someone actually have an experience of “giving trust” first?”

The next 15 minutes, we were privileged to hear stories of how the human spirit tends towards goodness – as people dug deep into their personal experiences to share many such instances. Someone also spoke about reformed convicts who were trusted to improve. That reminded another of “Do Aankhen Baarah Haath”. One person shared his very personal experience of growing up his children and how working from a paradigm of “giving trust” made all the difference. Someone also cited some research done abroad, where students trusted to perform better by their teachers – actually did so. It is apparently called the “Pygmalion effect”.

It was fascinating how, after the group achieved the break-through in re-defining trust, it was as if a floodgate was opened – and going back to their experiences and knowledge, everyone just “knew” that “giving trust” rather than “earning trust” was an infinitely better paradigm to work out of. It was just that often times, perhaps due to to the over competitive milieu around us, we forget or overlook this goodness – which is when we expect people to “earn” our trust.

“Would this be a better paradigm to work out of?”, “Can each of us commit to work out of this paradigm in our teams and our lives?”

The group agreed unanimously. There were smiles all around. Also a flicker of the new understanding on trust seemed to cast a warm glow on the participants. As the group adjourned, we hoped that this insight about “giving trust” as against “earning trust”, that emerged from their collective intelligence would be something that would stay with them, for it would definitely make them a much better team.

What do you think about “Giving Trust” as against “Earning Trust”? Let us know….

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