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Trust Activities

Willow in the Wind

Description of a Trust-building Activity

James Neill
Last updated:
13 Nov 2004

Willow in the Wind

  • Provides a gentle, but important and challenging activity to begin building genuine trust amongst people.  Requires good facilitation and fairly mature group.

  • Group members should already have spent time together, know each other's names, etc.

  • Establish a genuine tone; whilst fun is allowed, the primary objective is looking after and caring for one another.  This requires a calm, supportive atmosphere.  If particpants are unable to genuinely sustain this kind of atmosphere, then look for a less serious activity.  There is the potential for physical and psychological injury.

  • The group needs to be taught correct spotting technique:

    • one foot in front of another

    • arms outstretched, elbows locked, fingers loose

    • ready and alert

  • In groups of about 8, one person volunteers to be the "willow" in the middle.  Facilitator demonstrates the "willow":

    • feet together

    • closes his/her eyes

    • arms crossed and hands on shoulders

    • keep butt cheeks tight and body straight

    • establishes contract with group (see below)

    • does a "trust lean" and allows him/herself to be "passed around" the group.

  • The final step before leaning is to create a contract between the "willow" and the group.  It can go like this:

    • Willow: "I am ready to fall.  Are you ready to catch me?"

    • Group: "We are ready to catch you.  Fall away."

    • Willow: "Falling."

    • Group: "OK"

  • Important: Ensure the group is tight, should-to-shoulder, arms outstretched.  In this position, hands should almost touch the person standing in the middle.  This ensures that the initial fall will be very gentle.  Gradually the group can ease back to allow a more expansive lean.  Distribute large and small people evenly, to avoid weak points in the circle.

  • The "willow" should allow him/herself to be passed around by the group as long as she/he likes (usually a couple of minutes).  When he/she has had enough, simply open eyes, stand up, and thank the group.

  • The quality of the atmosphere and caring will generally determine the proportion of people prepared to volunteer.  Above 80% is usually a sign of a reasonably healthy group.

  • As a debrief or an intervention if a group isn't creating a trusting atmosphere, I've asked people to individually rate out of 10 how supported they felt by the group -- and show this to the group by holding the number of fingers up.  This allows the facilitator to draw out more objectively which people felt supported and what else the group might do to support more people.

Equipment: large area preferably with soft ground for falling, e.g, grass.

Time: ~5 mins per person in group

Brief description:

In groups of about 8, a person in the middle closes his/her eyes, does a "trust lean" and is "passed around" the group.  Requires good facilitation and fairly mature group.