Form two straight lines of people, facing each other and standing about 1-2 metres apart.
Instruct these people to extend their arms out in front of them (parallel to the ground,) alternating their arms between the people opposite.
Ask a volunteer to stand at least 10 metres from one of the ends of the two lines, looking straight down the middle.
Upon issuing a series of agreed ‘Are-you-ready?’ commands, ask the volunteer to run at three-quarter pace directly towards the corridor between the two lines.
The two lines of people aim to keep their arms out-stretched until the very last moment the runner passes in front of them, when they rapidly flick their arms up out of the way.
Runner is challenged to maintain an even pace through the corridor and out the end of the two lines before stopping, keeping their eyes open at all times.
The group aims to create an exciting thrill for the runner while not hitting him or her in the process.
Repeat with several volunteers.
How To Play Narrative
Ask one lucky person to be the first ‘runner,’ and invite them to move about 10 to 15 metres (35′ – 50′) away from the group.
Then, set up the rest of your group into two straight lines, each line facing and standing about 1 to 2 metres (3-5′) in front of the other.
Ideally, each member of a line will stand shoulder to shoulder with their neighbours, but if you have a small group of say less than ten people, it will work better to space them about arms-length apart.
Now, instruct each person in the two lines to extend their arms out in front of them (parallel to the ground,) and alternate their arms between the arms of the people directly opposite, ie one person should not have their own two arms placed next to each other.
With the group’s eyes now turned towards the ‘runner,’ the runner will initiate a series of agreed ‘Are you ready?” commands, and on “GO” run at three-quarter pace towards the entrance of the corridor between the two lines.
The object for the two lines of people is to keep their arms laid out in front for as long as possible. That is, they should only flick their arms up (and out of the way of the runner) at the very last moment before a collision with a juxtaposed nose occurs.
I suggest flicking up and not down because up is way more scary as arms flash by the runner’s eyes. Looking side-on, the arms should flail up as if gripped in a mexican-wave of sorts as the runner scoots through the corridor.
Ideally, the runner is challenged to maintain an even pace through the corridor and out the end of the two lines before stopping, keeping their eyes open at all times. That’s all very well in theory of course, but it’s very much a different story when you actually have to be the runner.
In case it’s not obvious, the whole point of the exercise is to create an exhilarating thrill for the runner while not hitting him or her in the process.
Again, like most trust-building exercises, take the time with your group – perhaps between attempts – to reflect back on what it was like to be the ‘wavers’ and the runner, why people slowed down, how it felt to trust the group with a physical responsibility, etc.
Practical Leadership Tips
A safety note, it’s a good idea to remove all watches and bulky jewellery from the ‘waving’ arms, lest the runner embraces a gold-plated injury.
The potential for harm is very real in this exercise if your group is not adequately prepared – mentally, physically and emotionally – for the challenge. To this end, consider your sequence carefully.
While you can get away with just a handful of people, this exercise really does benefit from the maxim ‘the more the merrier.’
If you observe a runner choosing to run full-pelt towards the entrance of the two lines, call “STOP” immediately, and ask them to re-start at three-quarter pace.
If you happen to be running this exercise indoors, I’d suggest that your line of ‘wavers’ step at least five metres (margin of error) away from the wall towards which the runner is heading.
Honouring Challenge by Choice, I would recommend that you simply invite only those who volunteer to be runners. It may be nice, but certainly not necessary, to ask everyone to complete this task.
Even though it may get tedious, always, always, always insist that your group commit to the series of ‘Are-you-ready?’ commands BEFORE someone starts running. This routine not only sharpens people’s attention, but it will pay dividends later in your program, especially if you plan on embarking on higher-level adventures.
Expect to observe these and many other typical reactions from the runner – putting their hands in front of their face, shutting their eyes, ducking their head under the arms, etc.
Variable Heights: Alter the height at which people lay and extend their arms, ie from chest height to eye-level.
Add A Gap: Move the two lines of people further away from each other, so that their hands/arms do not overlap. Indeed, you could add a gap between the fingertips of each line, all in an effort to reduce the perceived risk.
Foam Bridges: Form two lines of people holding out a foam (pool) noodle. This time, the runner will view a continuous wave of foam noodles pulled from their path as they complete their run – a more forgiving series of objects than arms.
Take a look at Slice & Dice as an ideal exercise to progress from the Trust Wave.
Useful Framing Ideas
How many people do you know would you trust with your life? This is not a question we often think about, but in a matter of life and death, who would you turn to? If someone says that they’ll do something, and they don’t, how do you feel? How do you feel when someone lets you down? [allow time for discussion…] In a moment, I’m going to prepare a scenario in which everyone will have a role, and if everyone does their job well, nobody will get hurt. Everyone will be responsible for the safety of the group in this exercise…
As human-beings, we are all born with critical survival instincts which are rarely called upon, but when necessary, are activated in the name of self-preservation. We can’t control these instincts. For example, we all experience a surge of adrenalin when we are suddenly frightened, which in primitive times, would have been used to feed our muscles the extra juice they required to react quickly or flee a predator. This next exercise will explore the fascinating impact of what happens when we think we are going to hit something, even though we know we are highly unlikely to…
Even though you may have developed a very strong bond with another person, or this group, at the end of the day, we are all ultimately and personally responsible for our own safety. Only a fool would trust everyone and everything around them blindly, that is to say, without any preparation or forethought. You will see this fascinating phenomenon – of protecting ourselves, even though we expect the group is capable of keeping us safe – in this next exercise…
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 exciting and dynamic trust-building game:
What did you observe as the runner approached the two lines of arms? What did you make this mean?
Did the runner maintain a consistent pace? Why or why not?
How did it feel to be the runner? Did you trust the group would react in time?
Can you think of other examples in your life in which timing is essential to building trust?
The inspiration for Trust Wave, and many more exciting, trust-building games and activities, was sourced from the following publication: