Team Activity: Use a Timeline

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 23, 2012

I am putting the finishing touches on a speech I am giving next Tuesday.  Odd thing is that it centers around my US Coast Guard experience – and I don’t typically talk about my Coast Guard days on stage.  In the bar, maybe.  On stage, never.  Evidently, it is Women’s History Month and I have been hired to regale USCG Air Station Clearwater Coasties about the rewards and challenges of being a woman in the service.

What to say?  Hmmmm….  Where to start?  To get the creative juices flowing, I mapped out a “timeline” starting in 1978 when I entered the academy up to today. That’s 30 plus years!  Yikes!

I then started filling in the timeline with significant events and potential stories.  When you step back, it may look like a mess to you, but makes perfect sense to me.  From there, I selected key points and lessons learned that I wanted to share.

You can do the same type of activity with your team: Tape a few sheets of paper to the wall and create a horizontal timeline.  Determine the context for the timeline – it could be personal (like mine), organizational (for example, what was going on in the USCG), local (what was going on in a certain location like Washington DC), global (what was going on in the world), industry (what was going on within your industry or field).  Future Search, a specific model for finding common ground in organizations and communities, actually has the group look through the lens of one time line at a time (typically three layers: personal, local and global).

Give your teammates several colored markers and then let them write in what was happening.  Some just write words; others use colors, drawings and symbols – more like a mindmap.  Let them focus on one map at a time.  After a defined moment of time, bring the timelines together (stack them up one on top of the other) and note how the stories relate to the other timelines.  The conversation and observations are amazing to listen to.  You’ll hear lots of “I didn’t know that!”, “That happened to me too!” and “Look at how far we have come!”

Using one or a few timelines is an excellent teambuilding activity that allows each team member to understand that we all live on the same planet and are psychologically the same.

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