Timeline ice-breaker

By | February 27, 2017

Ice-breakers are good way to warm up a group before getting stuck into the main focus of a meeting. Although there are plenty of fun and entertaining ice-breakers out there (e.g. draw a picture of someone else in the room without taking your pen off the paper) many of these have no relevance to the forthcoming meeting.

“Career highlights” (aka Career Time Line) is a good ice-breaker which is fun, entertaining, gets people out of their chairs, but is also very relevant to team formation. It is especially powerful when the people in the room don’t know each other (e.g. the kick-off of a new project with a new client), but also works with existing teams.

What is it?

In short, people talk about a few of their career highlights in order to understand what makes each other happy.

This is how it works:

  • Get into pairs
  • First person (“person A”) imagines a line on the floor: one end of the line is the present moment; the other end of the line represents the start of their career (person A can choose when this is; it doesn’t have to be their first job)
  • Together, and in silence, the pair walks back along person A’s timeline, from the present moment to the start, with person A thinking about what happened at each stage of their career
  • When they reach the start of their timeline, person A chooses a few highlights (max 4) to talk about
  • The pair then walks back along the timeline, stopping at the relevant points for person A to tell a brief story about their various highlights
  • After person A has told their stories, the pair returns to the present moment end of the timeline
  • Repeat the process for person B

Image courtesy of Kasra Kyanzadeh (https://www.flickr.com/photos/kasrak/3316980602)

So why is it is so good?

Career Highlights is a good ice-breaker for a few reasons. Firstly, it injects a bit of energy as everybody is up on their feet and moving around. Secondly, it’s easy on the facilitator and easy on the participants: people are just talking about their past experiences and are only being asked to talk about the best bits. Thirdly, the group starts to bond through this sharing a few personal snippets. Fourthly, people start to understand some of the skills that are on the team (which might never have been aired) and what makes their colleagues tick. For example, if your timeline partner had raved about how she loved working on a charity fundraising gala in a past job then, if a large-scale event needed planning on the current project, you might want to see if she’d like to take the lead.


Switching people around so that they get to talk their history through with other people can reap further rewards because more people know about each other.

Alternatively, you could ask each person to retell their favourite story they were told by their partner. This will usually be a lot shorter version and get to the punchline quicker. However, if you do this, I’d recommend getting the group’s agreement beforehand.

There’s a version of the exercise where people map the ups and downs of their career on a timeline. Although this is a great exercise, and broadcasts what people do and don’t like, it requires more thought and honesty on behalf of the participants, and takes longer.

One final thought

Keep some tissues to hand: it’s not uncommon for people to get (happily) emotional during the exercise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *