There are a dozen books on Amazon filled with icebreaker activities, and hundreds, if not thousands, of websites offering the same (this site, for example, has 32 games to choose from). But how do you select the right icebreaker? How do you select an activity that adds to the energy and effectiveness of your meeting and doesn’t leave people rolling their eyes and counting the minutes to the end? Here are four criteria I use when selecting warm-up activities:
Make the icebreaker thematically relevant. Choose an icebreaker that connects to the theme of the meeting. This is crucial for longer meetings and retreats so that people feel like the time they’re investing in playing along (which is generally how we all feel when asked to do an icebreaker) isn’t wasted. For example, if the the meeting is about planning for the future, choose an icebreaker that has to do with the future, such as picking an image card that represents an aspect of your team or life in the future; drawing a picture of something from your bucket list; building a puzzle in small groups that was selected because it represents a metaphor of the future of the team, etc.
Scale appropriately. An icebreaker for a 1-hour meeting should be short and sweet. Asking everyone to introduce themselves and answer a question that lets the group get to know each person a bit more is fine. Questions like, “Where were you living when you were 15?”, or “What food takes you immediately back to childhood when you eat it?” work well. Longer meetings allow for longer icebreaker activities, though I generally keep all warm-up activities to about 15 minutes or less. The only time I’ll choose something longer is if the retreat is focused on team building and I sense the group will be well-served by doing a longer collaboration or communication activity. The coat of arms activity described in this post on visual icebreakers is an example of a longer activity that I’ve used to open a meeting on team building.
Aim for the right tone. If the tone of the meeting is thoughtful and creative, select an icebreaker that helps set that tone. I might ask the group do a collaborative collage, or draw something to represent an insight they’ve had about a customer or patient this year. If the tone of the meeting is serious or somber, I might ask each person to bring an object that is meaningful to them to share, or write down some personal reflections and share something from that activity.
Consider culture fit. I work with some teams that know each other really well and love being silly and playful. For these teams I might consider an icebreaker that involves improv or a game of duck-duck-goose. For a team that doesn’t know each other, or one with a lot of introverts, these types of activities will likely just create a lot of embarrassment, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to create.
The goal of icebreakers is to create a feeling of social connection and positive energy in the room that enables the group to have a more productive meeting. Keep these criteria in mind as you browse through those icebreaker books or websites so you can select an icebreaker with confidence