The value of icebreakers

by Charlie Jia

As a leader, there will be times when you will need to gather a group of people and have them work together. This may be to workshop solutions to a problem, to share information, or to complete a project together.
An "icebreaker" can be helpful in preparing the group for a more productive session. 

I find my student groups are more relaxed and ready for 'work' once we've all enjoyed a good ice breaking activity. 

And, an icebreaker can have a number of purposes.   Some common ones are: 

  • to set the scene (e.g. paint the picture, create the right frame of mind),
  • to get the endorphins up for the next session (some moving or exercise), or
  • to help relax the group following an active session or provocative topic.

You should think about what you would like the icebreaker to achieve when choosing the activity.

Keeping things simple really helps too. You don't want to 'lose' people by having overly complicated instructions or very time-consuming activities.   

Delivering training sessions and facilitating group work over video-conferencing has thrown up some challenges.  This is true for icebreakers too.

After a bit of experimentation, I developed this icebreaker for my groups.

 I spy, for Zoomers

The facilitator asks all participants to turn their cameras on.  The facilitator starts by identifying the first object starting with the first letter that can be seen on one of the participant’s screen. 

Once the object is identified, the facilitator of the next game is the participant who has the object on their screen. 

If no one guesses the object, then the facilitator will reveal their object to the group.  The person with the object on their screen facilitates the next game.

This is a quick way to get conversation going, and get to know each other, even if we physically separated.

Try an icebreaker at your next planning session or meeting.  See if it helps create a more productive environment.