The Lifeline Exercise

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Short Version
  • Building understanding and empathy between team members. 
  • Leads to higher-trust teams which ultimately leads to better results. 

The Lifeline Exercise, when used in a team setting, can be a potent tool to build trust and combat "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" as identified by Patrick Lencioni. By encouraging team members to share their life journeys, including their highs and lows, they are revealing their vulnerabilities, which directly tackles the first dysfunction: absence of trust. In this safe space, team members gain an understanding of each other's experiences and perspectives, fostering empathy and mutual respect. Over time, this shared vulnerability and understanding can lead to stronger interpersonal relationships within the team, laying a solid foundation of trust necessary for overcoming fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results – the remaining dysfunctions.

Over the years, I've seen firsthand how the Lifeline Exercise can transform team dynamics. It serves as a platform for team members to open up about their personal journeys, revealing vulnerabilities that foster deep-rooted trust. As this transparency and shared understanding take shape, I've seen teams overcome hurdles and work together more effectively.

Every time I personally run the Lifeline Exercise on myself, it has given me a fresh lens through which to view my own life story. It's allowed me to identify patterns and understand the significant moments that have shaped my life. This continual exploration and re-telling of my life story has brought a renewed sense of clarity and self-awareness, which I believe is invaluable, both in my personal and professional life.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a Lifeline Exercise, there are two versions. 

  1. Prepare: You'll need a large sheet of paper and a pen or marker. A calm, quiet space is ideal for this exercise as it allows for deeper reflection. (Skip to #3 if you are on Google Sheets)
  2. Draw the Line: Draw a horizontal line across the paper. This line represents your life. Mark one end as your birth and the other as the present.
  3. Reflect on Major Life Events: Think about the significant events in your life, both positive and negative. These might include moving to a new city, starting a new job, losing a loved one, getting married, or any other event that had a substantial impact on your life.
  4. Mark the Events: Place these events along the line. Positive events are marked above the line and negative ones below it. The distance from the line should represent the magnitude of the event's impact on your life. Typically between 10 to 20 dots should suffice.
  5. Connect the Dots: Connect all the events with a line, creating a visual representation of the ups and downs of your life journey.
  6. Analyze Your Lifeline: Reflect on your lifeline. What patterns do you notice? Do certain types of events or experiences tend to trigger high or low points? This analysis can provide valuable insights into your behavior patterns and emotional responses.
  7. Envision Your Future: Now, extend the line into the future and imagine potential positive events that could occur. This can help create a vision for your future and identify goals or steps to make it happen.