What We've Found

Ice breakers 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
Bumper Stickers
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 lead-ins:
  • 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 Planning
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
This exercise 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.

Heerree's 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.


Guided, short activities that help a group of people become acquainted with each other.

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 If...
  • 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 aloud.
Timing is Everything
Ice Breakers can be used at any meeting, whether it’s the first time the group has met or the hundredth.

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