Friday, April 24, 2009 by Dave Blum

Team building is happening all over the world; you’ve got your corporate team building Atlanta, your corporate team building Dallas, your corporate team building Boston, your corporate team building Los Angeles…So why not team building:  Tocantins, Brazil?  Because that’s where the TV show, Survivor, is holding its current season of team building and team destruction.

About once a season, I write about CBS’s hit show Survivor — not because I think it’s the greatest program on the airwaves, or the most uplifting.  As a leader of corporate team challenges, I find myself drawn to Survivor because it’s really the only show on network TV that gives you small teams of real people, struggling to create a society, form alliances and cooperate for mutual benefit.  Although Survivor is heavily edited by the producers, their behavior and feelings feel uncoached and unfiltered, making it a wonderful place to study psychology and sociology (all from the comfort of your own home).

What strikes me about the current season of Survivor is that the recurring theme seems to be TRUST (one of my favorite topics).  On last night’s episode, for example, Coach shook hands with JT and said something like, “I feel I can trust you to keep your word.”  This corresponds to point #5 of yesterday’s blog — “Be TRUSTWORTHY”.  Coach vowed not to vote out JT because he believed JT was someone who was honest (and SINCERE), someone who only made promises when he had the intent to keep them.  But, as is so common on Survivor, JT promptly broke that trust at tribal council and voted for Coach’s right-hand man, Tyson — setting up some sure fireworks for next week’s episode.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, why did JT do it?   I mean, he had a pretty strong alliance with Coach.  They both liked each other, saw each other as “warriors”.  So why go back on his word?   Well, obviously part of the reason is the way the show is set up — at the end of the day, your purpose for being out there is to win a million dollars, individually.  It’s definitely not about creating a trusting, ongoing business relationship!  The contestants (or cast) are all trying to maneuver for a chance to be the sole survivor (not necessarily the “surviving team”.  Nevertheless, alliances are important on Survivor, and it often makes sense to ride a team all the way to the end…and that usually means alligning yourself with people you can trust, for as long as possible.

My theory about yesterday’s show is that JT bailed out on his alliance with Coach because he didn’t deem Coach fully worthy of trust.  Oh, Coach was TRUSTWORTHY in the sense that he kept his promises.  But he also has been known to spin some outlandish stories — like fighting off 4-foot aborigines in the Amazon!  Coach’s fellow castaways apparently see him as neither TRANSPARENT nor SINCERE.   He’s also pretty abrupt and insensitive, leading people undoubtedly to view him as lacking in CARING, a fairly important component of trust.

What I”m learning from Survivor is that all five aspects of the model need to be in place for people to really trust you:


T–Be Transparent
R–Be Responsive
U–Use Caring
S–Be Sincere
T–Be Trustworthy

I’m guessing the winner on this season’s Survivor will be the person who demonstrates all five behaviors, or at least gets people to believe he/she is demonstrating these qualities.  We shall see.  My bet is on Stephen.