Time is Tricky

A simple problem-solving exercise for small and large groups to estimate the amount of time they will take to cover a certain distance.

 Team Building
 Creativity, Problem Solving
6 – 15 minutes
1 – 8, 9 – 16, 17 – 30, 31+
Children, Youth, Adults

Required Props

Stop-watch or timer

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. In advance, lay or mark two ‘lines’ spaced about 10 to 20 meters apart.
  2. Assemble your group to stand behind one of these lines, facing the other line.
  3. When ready, each person aims to cross the farthest line when they think exactly 60 seconds has elapsed.
  4. No talking is permitted at any time.
  5. Mentally note the people who cross the line closest to the one-minute mark.
  6. Repeat the task several times to measure overall group improvement.
  7. Allow time for planning and problem-solving discussions between rounds.

How to Play Narrative

In advance, lay two ropes, or identify two lines on your sports stadium surface which are 10 to 20 meters apart. The distance is not too relevant, but anything less than 10 meters is less-useful.

Ask your groups to stand behind one of the lines, facing the other line.
The set-up doesn’t get much easier than this. Explain that each person’s task is to cross the other line exactly 60 seconds after you say “GO.”

Note, there is no talking permitted during the exercise, and individuals assume full responsibility for when they believe the 60 seconds has expired.

Obviously, it will be necessary for people not to look at their watches during this task. If the temptation is too much, ask that their watches be removed. Also, check that the area you are playing in does not have a clock on the wall.

With a timer ready, say “GO” and instruct everyone to cross the farthest line exactly when they think the 60 seconds has elapsed.

It’s extraordinary how quick some or how long some people believe one minute will pass. Make a mental note of the people that have crossed the line the closest to the sixty-second mark.

Once everyone has crossed, announce the one or two people who crossed closest to the 60-second mark, so that others can gauge whether they were too slow or too fast.

Play several rounds, testing your group’s ability to improve their innate timing skills.

Allow some time between rounds for your group to discuss how they can continuously improve their performance. I like to note the gap between the slowest and fastest times. A group will be continuously improving if this gap gets smaller.

Practical Leadership Tips

Observe the variety of things people do to ‘fill-in’ the 60-second time-frame. Some will walk quickly up to the farthest line, simply bide their time and cross at the last second, while others will pace themselves evenly between the two lines. What they choose to do is neither wrong or right, but it is interesting.

Naturally, you could extend the experiment and test your group over 120 seconds, and so on. But, in my experience, these longer time frames only make it more difficult to succeed, and this is not the point of the exercise. A time of fewer than 30 seconds is too short.

Observe how group pressure plays a part in people’s decision-making processes.

Invite a conversation at the conclusion of the exercise to discuss what the results of this simple, yet difficult group initiative means for your group. See Reflection tab for a few processing ideas.

Popular Variations

  • Talking Is Permitted: Allow group members to communicate with each other before and during the exercise, with the objective of having everyone crossing the line at the same time. Aim for group consensus where everyone makes one simultaneous step as close to one minute as possible.
  • Get the participants to group into teams with the goal being the teams to finish together at the stipulated time and finish.
  • Sit Down: Start your group by standing and instructing individuals to sit down exactly as 60 seconds expires.
  • Look at Four Up to experience another group initiative that explores the challenge of accurately perceiving the passing of time.

Useful Framing Ideas

It’s a good thing we have watches and clocks available to use, because, without them, most of us would be lousy at guessing the time. Even measuring the passing of time is difficult. For example, starting when I say “GO” I want each of you to raise your hand as soon as you think ten seconds has elapsed. Okay, “GO.” [looking at stop-watch] Now – exactly ten seconds have passed. Look around, not everyone has their hand up, and some of you raised it much earlier than necessary. Let’s expand on this test, and multiply it…

There’s a funny scene in the film Crocodile Dundee when the main character is asked what the time is, and he looks up to the sun in the sky, squints his eyes, and then says “I’d say about ten past two…” The enquirer then checks her watch, and sure enough, he’s correct, giving the impression that Crocodile Dundee has some innate sense of time. Of course, moments later, we discover that he, in fact, looked at a watch in his pocket just before making his proclamation. Just like Croc Dundee, this next exercise will test how accurate your innate abilities are when it comes to the passage of time…

Reflection Tips & Strategies

Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this simple, no-prop team-building exercise:

  • In general, did 60 seconds pass quicker or slower than you estimated?
  • As a group, how well did we estimate the passing of 60 seconds?
  • Does it suggest that, as human beings, we are not very good at measuring time in our heads?
  • How much of the ‘flurry’ of most of you sitting down at about the same time suggests that we are easily influenced by others? Why?
  • Where else is influence experienced within the life of your group, and what impact does this have?


  • Simple set-up
  • Develops critical-thinking
  • Inspires creativity
  • Tests perception skills