Dean MeyersIAF Library

The Time Capsule

by for .  
60 - 906 - 50 Medium

In order to work without "living in the past", this imaginative activity aims to face and release grief/loss by memorializing former best practices/values from previous workplaces/environments.



Reveal and release emotional attachments (particularly grief and loss) to past workplaces or work environments in a safe group setting.

Enumerate best practices, ideas, concepts, values from past workplaces that might be applied to new situations, workplaces, teams.

Move a group through the transitional process to prepare them to accept and engage in change.




    (This can be done in a room with the simple materials listed above, or online utilizing MURAL, MIRO or another digital collaborative whiteboard platform)

    For an in-the-room experience:

    Place markers, index cards and other materials on participant's tables or centrally located for each participant to gather as desired.

    The room should have a large open wall or enough standing walls (4'x5' or 4'x8') to display the cards so each card can be seen. You may set up the wall with a title to show, it is recommended that the title be "TIME CAPSULE" or "THE BEST OF US.." rather than "MEMORIAL" 

    Spoken instructions: 

    Participants are shown the box, which is going to serve as a TIME CAPSULE to dedicate our best memories of experiences, people and values we gained or lived by [in our former place of work] or [before the merger] or [as we change the department organization] or [before COVID changes happened].

    Every participant is invited to write, draw, doodle or create one memory per card: be specific in your examples: describe a value we lived or worked by; give a reflection on how we made work exciting (what did we DO?); An individual that embodied the best of the work culture through specific actions; emotional reflections on high points.

    All these reflections and memories should be things we want to carry forward into the new environment.

    The participants should have a minimum of 10 minutes to silently reflect and create their Time Capsule memory; You may add more time for larger groups. 

    As the cards are finished, tape or attach them to the wall so they are clearly visible.

    (The facilitator may arrange the cards either by categories, i.e. Values, personal memories, greatest moments)

    When ready,

    Ask the group to stand and silently read the cards for a few minutes, they can talk to each other about the cards, but gauge the time to match the number of cards that can be read between 5-7 minutes.

    Facilitate a GROUP DISCUSSION on bringing the best of the old into the new: "What stands out to you that should be carried into the future, as part of the new way of working? What values will we still uphold or bring into this new work environment? How might we communicate these values, and ways of working that can make THIS workplace better?"

    Record these comments during the discussion, without moving the cards, on a seperate flipchart, or other visible means for the group to see.

    Close the discussion and ask a representative of the new group (i.e. Team Leader, Project Manager, or other person in a leadership position) to hold the box as someone from the "old team" removes the cards and places them into the card box.

    Conclude the activity by telling the group that the box is now a time capsule entrusted to the care of leadership, acknowledging the values, concerns, hopes, and best memories of "the way it was/where we came from", and that these cards may be referred to again in the future as institutional memory and honoring the past.

    MODIFICATIONS FOR ONLINE VERSION: using the sticky notes to replace the index cards, it is possible to add images and icons to decorate the individual cards.

    For the conclusion, the facilitator can take a snapshot of the group online and add it to the Time Capsule. Post activity, the image of the Time Capsule complete should be copied from the whiteboard, and distributed as a graphic to the participants.

    NOTE: Be aware of the powerful effect of grief, loss and anger, which are typical symptoms of passing through transitional stages. This can lead people to negative feelings that prevent change from happening because they do not want the discomfort that comes with the memories. It is important to discern for the group that rather than being merely a "memorial service" this is a symbolic action taken at the launch of new ventures, and our outcome is to enrich and inform what is to come from what came before.


    Dealing with grief and other difficult emotions that are part of the process of TRANSITION:

    Change, transformation, and disruption are common words used in business when companies attempt large-scale innovation, or are engaged in mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs and organizational restructuring. The COVID pandemic itself has been a worldwide agent of change, going beyond the workplace to all aspects of societal life, where other organized structures, including educational institutions, leisure, food and entertainment have been forced to change behind the scenes.

    The missing element in many change and transformation programs that are designed to assist people with adapting to change has been the lack of the acknowledgement of emotions, particularly grief, that come with the change. Without openly acknowledging and managing the grief that comes as part of the feelings, many people cannot move into new situations and accept and embrace change. These employees, at all levels of the organization, often leave the new organization having not been able to deal with the loss and grief, or underperform as they struggle to let go of the past and move into the present situation.

    This activity is intentionally designed for the workplace, as often expressing grief is highly socially stigmatized negatively in highly public or work environments. Transformation ceremonies are few and far between in business. However, the tradition of creating a TIME CAPSULE, capturing "the best of a moment in time and place" is a well-established tradition when dedicating new buildings, structures and other public venues, and can provide a publicly safe way to discuss the past, acknowledge loss and grief, and imagine a positive future.

    The Time Capsule can be a positive memorial, a way to mine concepts and values worthy to be brought into the new environment, while providing closure and promote the concept that new beginnings can rise out of the best of the past.

    As COVID has moved the workplace directly into the home environment for many, as well as creating powerful emotions including anxiety, uncertainty over the future, a longing for the past, and grief, this activity can model a positive way to surface and memorialize past conditions, highlight the best of what can be carried forward, and create a fitting tribute to what empowers the individuals forming new teams, groups, departments or companies to build from.

    The concept was derived from facilitating a series of Culture Change sessions and enterprise-level organizational redesigns before the COVID crisis, and then adapted to utilize digital collaborative whiteboards with many corporate teams forming remotely during the crisis that were struggling to shift into a new work paradigm.

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