Form into pairs, with someone of a similar height.
Standing side by side, ask each person to lean sideways towards their partner resting on one another’s shoulders.
Ask each person to shift their own feet away from their partner as far as they feel comfortable.
When ready, explain that each pair should aim to maintain this leaning stance as they walk together to an agreed point.
When ready, swap sides or swap partners.
Video Transcript for Lean Walk Trust-Building Exercise presented by Mark Collard
Okay, so Scott and I are going to be partners in this occasion, so if you could move out of the way for us ladies. We’re actually going to be heading in this direction. That’s right. You want to be aware of that.
So in your partners, we’re going to end up going…. over there. See where we’ve got that bag or bucket of balls? We’re all going to end up in that direction. However, you could just simply hold hands and walk over there, but too easy.
I ask you now to start to lean. We start to lean on each other, but we do it in a trustful way. So what’s going to happen, I’m going to lean towards you, and as effectively our upper arm and our shoulder that we’re leaning on, and then generally our inside legs are a little bent, and our outside legs start to really move outwards.
So as I lean in, he’s going to do the same. So as you start to lean in… okay, good. Alright, feel like we’re fairly well-positioned. Our object now is to walk as best we can in this position, walking as we’re leaning. Are you ready?
Alright. Let’s just give it a couple of steps. Very good. That’s good. Yes. Alright, we’re almost there. Good job. Alright. Now I invite you to come on back to where we started.
Thank you. So really work that lean. If you feel like you’re about to fall over, it means one of you is worker harder than the other. So come and join us.
(people practicing Lean Walk trust-building exercise)
Good job. That was good. A few of the first steps were a little wonky and after that we got into it.
(Then I pushed back.)
(people practicing Lean Walk trust-building exercise)
Look at this. Nice. Nicely done. Good. Nicely played. Nicely played. Very good. Alright. See now… here… Well done.
And it takes something. We were just talking, Scott and I, those first few steps were a little ooh ooh, coming in we started to hit our stride, we really started to… what were you saying, Scott?
(I pushed back.)
You started to push back. You really start to get a sense of well if I push, will you push back, because if it’s only one of you, guess what? Both of you fall.
And that for me just in a simple exercise talks a lot about relationships. You know, like in the beginning of a relationship, a girlfriend, boyfriend, starting to hold hands, all very giddy. It’s a little bit of fun. But then you start to have to work at it to make this thing happen, and then you really start to have to lean in and trust and start to push back a little bit, and then you start to hit a rhythm.
And guess what, you still have to keep working at it in order to keep going. With a very simple exercise again, opens up a myriad of things to talk about something that can be really significant.
How To Play Narrative
Are you looking for a new way to move people from point A to point B that’s quick and easy? Give this a go…
Invite each person in your group to find a partner, for example, someone who is a similar height to them. Then, ask for a volunteer to step forward so that you can demonstrate what the activity looks like.
Ask this willing volunteer to stand to one side of you, and then lean sideways towards you, as you do the same to them.
Aim to meet one another’s shoulders so that when viewed from the front or back, the two of you should look a bit like an upside-down V. To accentuate the upside-down V shape, invite people to shift their feet away from their partner as far as they feel comfortable.
Explain that your shared objective is to walk together towards some point (to the next activity, for example) leaning all the way. A quick three-second demonstration and your group should be good to go.
Encourage partners to test how far they can lean (ie move their feet further away from the centre) as they walk, while still retaining a solid, comfortable stance. Naturally, warn about the dangers of pushing past reasonable boundaries, lest heads smash, and/or bodies collapse to the ground.
Repeat, swap partners or try an idea from the Variations tab below.
Practical Leadership Tips
I love this lean walk trust-building exercise, if for no other reason than to use a novel way of ‘moving’ my group from one spot to another. But, it also subtly develops trust and cooperation, and a handy lesson in physics too.
Naturally, consider your sequence before launching into this one. Your group needs to have exhibited a fair degree of safety consciousness to be ready for this dynamic exercise.
If you see two people really pushing the boundaries, call them on it, and ask them to move their feet closer to the centre – especially if one person is looking decidedly less comfortable than the other.
In practice, you don’t actually need two people of similar height to undertake this exercise successfully. However, I would always suggest you start this way to establish good technique.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take a moment to review the exercise with your group to acknowledge what it took from each partner to make the activity work. There would be reasons for why it did or did not work, and these are worthy of exploring and relating directly to the life of your group. For example, what happened if you started to pull back from your partner? What did you notice when both of you leaned into each other equally? How important was the start of the exercise to arriving at your destination?
You could integrate Lean Walk as part of a well-designed SEL program to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of developing a strong and productive relationship with another person.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully complete this task speaks to the benefits of developing and practising the skills of adaptability and resilience. To this end, it is often difficult for two people to get their stance perfect on their first attempt. With patience and a willingness to adapt to the needs of their partner, most pairs will get it right – two valuable lessons which support well-being.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Lean Walk could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Swap Sides: Invite partners to swap sides so that they lean on the other shoulder.
Same Shoulder: Lean on the same shoulder, so each person faces a different direction, ie one person will be walking backwards.
Back to Back: Lean back to back and attempt to support one another as they travel in the same direction.
Three’s A Crowd: Invite groups of three, where one person walks upright in the centre of two others who lean towards them.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It is said that as a relationship grows older, the more two people have to work at it to make it successful. Whether you believe this or not, the truth is that all rewarding relationships are based on a solid foundation of trust. The more you trust, the more you can ‘lean into’ the relationship and the more you can give in return. This next exercise demonstrates this give and take principle beautifully…
I could just ask you to simply pick up your things and walk over there, to where our next activity will take place. But, you’ve been doing that all day, and I’m as bored with that as you are. So, let’s make the journey a little more interesting, shall we?…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this trust-building exercise:
What did you notice as you and your partner travelled together?
What did you discover about offering the right amount of support?
How might these ideas of support be helpful as we move forward together?
What are some ways in which we can care for ourselves and others?
Simple, Interactive ‘Trust-Building’ Program
What You Need:
8+ people, 40 mins
Star Stretch– sequenced partner exercise to build balance & trust
Lean Walk– simple partner exercise which teaches trust & reliance