What We've Found
can effectively break tension and encourage interaction between people, whether
they know each other or not. We can all be a little intimidated first entering a
room of people and a short activity can help people get comfortable voicing
their ideas with one another. While we often encounter some who are resistant to
doing ice breaker activities, more often than not, these activities generate
laughs and set a more positive tone for the meeting.
Just the Facts
Ice breakers usually take 15-30 minutes. A facilitator introduces the
activity, everyone participates and then the facilitator provides a quick
debriefing by bridging the activity into the next task.
The activities can be pure fantasy or they can relate to the purpose of the
meeting. Some happen at the beginning of the meeting: As people are introducing
themselves and explaining their roles or interests for being there, they also
answer an invented question the facilitator poses. Other ice breakers require
writing or talking one-on-one to other participants. But whether used at the
beginning of a meeting in introductions, after a break to help everyone refocus
or as a way to introduce a new technique to a group, ideally these activities
can help people learn to communicate more effectively with each other. A
facilitator needs to be sensitive to different people’s feelings in order for
everyone to have a positive experience. Thus some points to keep in mind:
- Some people perceive ice breakers as a silly waste of time.
- Some people are uncomfortable sharing personal information.
- Some people take longer than others to think of responses.
How To Do It
Each person answers the question: "What words would be on
your bumper sticker to let the world know how your week has gone (or your
philosophy of life reflected by this week)?" This technique provides humor and
insight, as well as a sensitization to particular needs and feelings that should
be taken into account while doing the task at hand. This exercise is especially
useful at evening meetings when people may be tired or tense. The facilitator
should pull it all together into a quick summary of group philosophy and provide
a directive for the rest of the evening.New Skills
Each person finishes this statement: "If I could wake up tomorrow with a
new skill or talent it would be…" Responses help participants identify common
interests and hobbies and discover talents that people may have but dream of
spending more time on (which can potentially be encouraged and used in
completing a project). This can especially help if the group is relatively new
and may feel its members have little to relate to with each other. Some more
- If I win the lottery, the first thing I would do is…
- If I won an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere, I would go to ___ and would
take ______ (a person and/or thing).
Mad Libs Strategic
At a strategic planning or visioning session, have each
participant write down two action verbs, two adjectives and two nouns, each on
its own piece of paper. Have three boxes, one labeled verbs, one for adjectives
and one for nouns, and put the paper in the appropriate box. Drawing one paper
from each box, create short phrases of action items to consider during the
planning session. While this is a whimsical exercise, it is interesting to note
those phrases that really do make sense for the group’s work. It also helps the
group to think in short, concrete, action-oriented terms for simplicity in
communication. One note of caution, without talking-down to any of the
participants, it may be a good idea to review the parts of speech and give
examples of each.
I've Got Your Number
requires people to approach and make requests of each other. as people arrive to
the meeting, each gets a number that they must wear in a conspicuous place on
their clothes. Ahead of time, prepare lots on instructions on little slips of
paper, such as borrow something from 1, introduce 2 to 7, have 6 get you a glass
of water, find out 12’s pet’s name. Put all of the instructions in a box for the
meeting. Everyone takes a slip of paper with an instruction on it. When they
have completed their instructions, they come back and get a new one. At the end
of the time limit (five minutes or so), whoever has completed the most
instructions wins. The prize could be something simple pertaining to the
resources being protected like a flower or a special stone. The person with the
least number of completed tasks could be required to shake everyone’s hand. An
extension would be for the facilitator to have everyone line themselves up in
order of the least to the most instructions completed. The facilitator has
everyone to look to see each person’s location. Discuss together any general
conclusions about differences in personality, leadership styles, playfulness,
competitiveness and just plain luck (or even timeliness if the person with the
least number of tasks was late to the meeting!). Consider ways that these
qualities might impact the development of networks, partnerships and
friendships. Focus on the value of diversity. As the group works together,
humorous references can be made to people’s styles. Some individuals may even
work to change the group’s perception of their style.
Johnny...and Carol and...
For an especially tough small group with
participants who may be resistant to more creative "what if" scenarios have
people introduce their neighbors to the rest of the group. While slightly more
staid than other activities, it does give two people a chance to speak
one-on-one and learn about why each of them are involved in the project or
attending the meeting. Another idea for anti-whimsical ice breaker types is for
each person to write down three strong skills. These can be on one sheet of
paper, on separate pieces or even on paper cut in shapes of tools (e.g., a
hammer, a screw driver, etc.). Then either each person shares his or her skills
or the facilitator reads them all aloud. This can help a new group get a sense
of the wealth of abilities they have to draw upon to accomplish their tasks.
activities that help a group of people become acquainted with each
Use It If...
You want to
loosen up a group, make a meeting feel less formal, spur creative thinking,
adjust attitudes, encourage acceptance of diversity, build working relationships
or just encourage laughter.Forget It
- You have a really full agenda and the activity would be rushed.
- You are facilitating a group that has been together for a while and there
are some members who protest every time an ice breaker is suggested. Don’t let
their negative attitudes discourage you, but it might be time to find another
way to focus people on working together such as reading from a journal or book,
listening to music, role playing or writing thoughts and reading them
Timing is Everything
Breakers can be used at any meeting, whether it’s the first time the group has
met or the hundredth.