Since joining Future Foundations late last year I have heard a lot about ‘Trust Fall’, an experiential learning activity which features in a number of our Leadership training programmes. There seemed to be a unanimous agreement among my new colleagues that as part of my induction into team FF I needed to see and experience one as soon as possible. ‘What, you’ve never done a Trust Fall before?’ they cried in disbelief ‘…just wait until you do your first one, it’s POWERFUL stuff’. I did some research. This trust-building team game involves a (willing!) volunteer deliberately falling backwards, from a not inconsiderable height and relying on the other members of the group to catch them. It sounded like a hoot, until I typed ‘trust fall fail’ into youtube and recalled a memorable scene from the film Mean Girls where the exercise backfires spectacularly during Miss Norbury’s (Tina Fey) ‘attitude makeover’ rally. I did not want to go the way of Gretchen Weiners.
Flash forward to the McKinsey Leadership Academy, two weeks ago today where I was invited to photograph our 100 lucky participants ‘in action’ on the first day on their residential programme. It was a glorious Summer’s day at Wellington College and order of the day, following some very energetic ice breakers and a heartfelt opening plenary was ‘Trust Fall’. Wellington College is an ideal venue for this session as it’s South Garden features a long, sturdy 5ft stone wall ideal for hurtling off. After a rigorous risk assessment to check the stability of each fall site we brought the teams of 10 across to the wall and thus began the Trust Fall. The session began with a series of warm-ups which gradually increase the level of risk for participants with each exercise. I watched as young people graduated from ‘plank lift’ to ‘weeble’, slowly growing in confidence and learning to put their faith in team mates they had only met a few hours previously. As the first volunteers gingerley climbed atop the 6ft wall over-looking South Garden the atmosphere was electric with anxious energy and eager anticipation!
For the next hour nervous laughter followed by announcements of ‘falling’, ‘catching’ and elated cries of relief filled the air as every young person in turn experienced their own Trust Fall. I watched the ‘fun’ from the behind my camera lens as a random assortment of young people became close knit teams working as one, sharing responsibility for each others’ safety and literally (although thankfully not actually!) risking their backs. As I snapped away, capturing some truly bizarre facial expressions and putting my camera’s sport mode setting to good use I realised the session was rapidly coming to a close and that fact that I hadn’t participated seemed to have gone unnoticed. I was obviously looking far too relaxed as I was collared by Phillip, one of our McKinsey Alumni volunteers who called me over and invited me to have a go.
I wobbled up onto the wall and felt my heart in my mouth as I shuffled to the edge and peered over my shoulder. It was a long way down. The young people were incredible as they led me through the next steps and reassured me calmly, I hesitated for a moment and called out ‘ready to fall’ to warn them about the full force of a solid 6ft 2 me about to crash down on them from a great height. I heard the dreaded response ‘ready to catch’ and there was no going back. I stiffened my body, clasped my arms to my side and…fell. And it was POWERFUL, just as they said it would be!
Trust Fall challenges us to confront and overcome our fears of the unknown, taking the ultimate risk by delegating responsibility for our own safety to others. It builds our confidence in ourselves as much as our team mates and ‘fallers’ are rewarded with a huge sense of accomplishment and increased self belief they can take away and apply to other areas of their life. We learn that sometimes self confidence is simply having the courage to take ‘the next step’ in life, rather than having a built up supply of confidence to turn on and that can and should to support one another in that journey. Most importantly Trust Fall creates a bond between team mates. Author David Armistead writes that ‘when the trust level gets high enough, people transcend apparent limits, discovering new and awesome abilities of which they were previously unaware’, it is the glue which holds together a team and enables effective leadership. I understand now the power of this exercise, especially when guided by an experienced FF coach trained to draw out learning through group reflection.
This is just one of the tools Future Foundations coaches use the create impact and deep learning in our Leadership training programmes. To find out more about Future Foundations Leadership programmes for schools, get in touch. We will be launching recruitment for the McKinsey Leadership Academy in the Autumn term and invite students aged 16-17 to make an application.