In college, I was a member of a service organization. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the club and what we did, I sometimes dreaded the meetings -- because we would usually open with icebreakers. Some of them were uncomfortable... I remember being horrified one time when we were all asked to introduce ourselves and then sing or dance. I didn't feel comfortable doing either in front of a bunch of people I hardly knew!
Many people, like me, hate icebreakers because they can be corny, lame or make you squirm in your seat. But Brian Cole Miller has come to the rescue, releasing his book Quick Meeting Openers for Busy Managers: More Than 50 Icebreakers, Energizers, and Other Creative Activities That Get Results.
In his book, Miller insists icebreakers are a great way to introduce employees, to get to know each other better, to split into groups, to brainstorm and to get people energized.
He doesn’t include any icebreakers in his book that are considered “touchy-feely” – where participants have to touch each other or share intimate thoughts or feelings (I think dancing and singing is included in here, too).
Here are a couple of suggestions for your next meeting of quick and interesting icebreakers, preapproved by the Icebreaker Hater herself (that’s me):
§ “If I were an ____”: Manager picks a statement, such as “If I were a cartoon character, I’d be a _____” or “If I were a toy, I’d be a _____.” (Maybe “If I were an infectious disease, I’d be_____?”) Participants fill in the blank and explain their answers.
§ Questions: Manager poses a thought-provoking question, such as “What’s your middle name, and why did your parents give it to you?” or “What is your favorite guilty pleasure?”
§ Fortune Cookies: Have each participant write down a fortune on a slip of paper, and then have participants exchange fortunes.
§ Fortune Tellers: Ask each participant to describe what they believe their lives will be like in 5, 10 or 20 years from now.
§ Fun Facts: Participants write down an interesting fact about themselves. The manager reads the facts, and everyone guesses what fact belongs to what person.
§ Quotes: Participants share their favorite quotes with the group and discuss why they like that quote.
§ Ten Fingers: Participants start this icebreaker with all 10 fingers in the air. Participants then go around the room, sharing a statement with the group, such as: “I have a dog” or “I read a novel last year.” If a coworker agrees with the person’s statement, she puts one finger down. The icebreaker can go on until all fingers are down.
§ Photo Scavenger Hunt: This one could be a lot of fun, but it requires more time than the others (and that a few employees have a camera on their cell phones). The manager should create a list of unique, possibly hard to find items around the lab or facility and have the coworkers split up into teams to take photos of these items. Bonus: For the first team to come back with photos of all the items, the manager could offer a small prize.
§ Optimists: This could be a good one if you have a lot of Debbie Downers in your lab. Have each person write down a negative thought or comment about their day or their work. Then the participants should get into pairs and share what they wrote. Their partners should offer them a positive alternative to what they wrote. For example, Cindy says, “These meetings always seem to run late.” Bill responds, “But this means we’ll have to spend less time on the same topic at the next meeting.” Maybe this will help some employees to start thinking more positively!
§ Rock, Paper, Scissors: You know how to play the game. Give each participant five tokens, and have them challenge a coworker to a good old fashioned game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Whoever wins gets a token from their opponent. Then coworkers should challenge new opponents. The game should go on until someone gets 10 tokens.
Feel free to share some icebreakers you enjoy (or those you hate!)