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An Anecdote About Trust

Back at uni, we had a semester about IT project management, and one of the highlights was this two-day off-site where we went to a camp and did team-building kind of exercises to explore social dynamics and stuff.

One exercise was called "Saboteur". In short, the mission was for the teams to recreate a complicated building block construction set in a different room. The constraint was that each team could only dispatch one person at a certain interval to study the original construction. The goal was to get to the identical structure first.

Additionally, each team was "infiltrated" with an unknown amount of saboteurs, tasked with slowing down their teams without revealing their purpose.

To counter for this, our team decided to use double-checking observation roundtrips to weed out the saboteur(s). The team members that were found to have provided wrong observations were excluded from making any more observation roundtrips. I remember this girl in particular that was caught making mistakes two times, and I suspected she was our saboteur. So I argued openly for excluding her, and I got the strong feeling she was lying when she claimed innocence, making me even more sure.

In the end, we finished last of all the teams. Afterwards, we all seated around for reflection on the exercise, and the saboteurs were asked to stand up and reveal themselves. And, you guessed it, nobody stood up.

What I took away was how dramatic the effect of just knowing that there could be a saboteur, and how convinced I had been in my suspicions. I might add that our team aced every other exercise in those two days, but this one left us in the dirt because without trust we were not able to work productively.

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If you're looking to recreate this exercise, I found a similar one online: The Mole. And yes, it's a bit like the Werewolf party game.

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