Journey Lines – A Team Building Activity

I performed a Journey Lines team building activity (as described by Lyssa Adkins) with various teams. In general, I was really happy how it went (and so were my colleagues).

The idea of Journey Lines is that each of the participants draws a line showing ups and downs of previous jobs. Each chart contains also some additional information like technologies used, skills acquired, names of companies they worked for, or any other comments that people find important. This activity:

fosters self-organization and cross-functional behavior because it reveals a person’s skills, experiences, background, etc. This way, the rest of the team knows what this person “brings to the party.”

Some observations:

  • Some people need to check LinkedIn to help them remember all the places they used to work (especially freelancers with short-term contracts really need such reminders),
  • The time required to tell the story differs – some people needed 6 minutes, for others even 15 seemed to be not enough (next time I will probably put some time constraints). The whole exercise took an hour (for 4 people team) and more than 2 hours for 8 people (including 15 minutes pizza break).
  • Even though this activity is intended to be used when forming a team, we played it a long time after the team was created and it was also fun & informative. Team members learned a lot about each other, even though they worked together for a long time already.
  • Personal things (marriages, kids) showed up rarely.
  • It was very interested to see how many different ways lead us to this particular company that we work for now. Also, it was funny to notice that in the past we all went through similar stages (e.g. freelancing during high school, hacking games etc.).
  • Some people draw really beautiful charts with nice fonts and additional drawings.
  • There was a lot of new things about each team member that no one knew before.

Probably the most interesting for me was to learn about the “down” moments (where the line of journey went down, down, down – often very abruptly and usually resulted in job change). There were few reasons for this:

  • people issues – stupid team lead / manager / boss can ruin even the best place,
  • stagnation – nothing new? maintenance and bug fixes for too long? people will look for a different place to work,
  • people leave their jobs when put in a position they did not want (e.g. someone was appointed a PM, another dev ended doing some office-management tasks).
  • a lack of vision (“why are we doing this?”) or lack of business impact (“we did it, but then they started to argue if they really need it, and it never went to production”) is a serious motivation killer

One more thing. I like this activity because it creates a symmetrical situation – “I show you mine, you show me yours”. Also, each participant can decide how much he wants to reveal. The only potentially intimidating thing is that at some point you need to stand in front of your colleagues and tell your story. But somehow, it hasn’t been an issue for any of devs I worked with.

P.S. Ask participants to write neatly on their charts so that later all can read it! 🙂

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