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Icebreaker Questions 101 Icebreakers for Meetings and Team Building

Updated on August 6, 2012

Your Awesome Icebreaker Challenge

You’re preparing for a critically important small group meeting, presentation or team building intervention. You need to quickly customize a seriously effective group icebreaker to insure the highest levels of positive group-bonding, trust, high-involvement and collaboration.

This is the kind of group meeting I’m going to quickly and easily help you avoid:

No Awesome Icebreakers here!

What You Need to Know About Effective Ice Breakers for Meetings and Teams

People thrive in fun, high engagement group learning situations that they play a clear role in shaping. You need an effective icebreaking strategy that quickly starts building a high-trust positive group dynamic as soon as your meeting starts.

It’s all about that critical first impression your group forms. This is going to make the difference between a meeting energized for accelerated learning and high involvement and a meeting where the most important goal for participants will be just staying awake.

This short post will help you blow away your icebreaker challenge. I'm going to provide you with a quick overview of:

  • The 2 Essential Characteristics of Effective Meeting, Team Building and Small Group Icebreakers
  • 3 Awesome Icebreaker Exercises You Can Learn Fast and Apply Immediately

The 2 Essential Characteristics of Effective Meeting Icebreakers

In order to maximize the positive impact of your small group or meeting ice-breaking efforts, it’s critical that any icebreaker activity or exercise you select has the following 2 essential parts or characteristics. An effective icebreaker must:

· Positively Accelerates Group Development

An awesome icebreaker quickly builds a spirit of participant trust and engagement. It does this by capturing their attention fully and completely engaging their interest in the group’s activities.

Awesome icebreakers also quickly and strategically break through people’s natural social defenses and the negative expectancies they’ve developed through a long history of attending boring meetings.

Strong icebreakers accelerate group bonding. They provide structure and facilitate helping group members quickly familiarize and feel comfortable with one and other.

They transform the natural social discomfort and awkwardness of new group formation. They elicit and exploit human laughter and shared humor to accelerate group bonding and trust.

Effective icebreakers also set the critical group norms of openness, trust and collaboration. They also model and positively reinforce effective group communication skills like turn-taking, active listening and group member encouragement. The world’s best group facilitators are also the world’s best human listeners.

An Appreciative Inquiry Primer

Harnessing the Power of Nano-Appreciative-Inquiry

The best icebreakers fully harness the incredible power of what I like to call “Nano-Appreciative Enquiry.” In other word’s they quickly forge powerful bonds between group members through having them share snapshots of their passions, strengths and accomplishments.

Early in my own work as a clinical team leader and team builder, I quickly noticed that the team development process could be rapidly accelerated by eliciting what might be described as mini -personal “Oprah Moments” from new group members.

This is where I’d ask group members (only if comfortable) to share 1 experience from their personal or professional life. An experience that is moving because it displays strong and positive human values. Of course I’d always start this deeply penetrating icebreaker and rapid relationship builder by sharing a story or values based accomplishment from my own personal or work experience.

Nano-Appreciative Enquiry also establishes positive behavioral momentum for a small group by enabling deeply positive emotional experiences and connections between the participants. This exercise is particularly enabling for groups becoming real teams who will be working with each other or closely interacting over time.

It is so important to harness your team's first impressions of one and other to minimize developmental "storming". A new team member who hears about another member's life saving volunteer work, is far less likely to escalate into team-developmental group conflict with that person.

Bringing out the best in people right away creates a powerful group bonding experience that will pay extraordinary dividends in later team performance and smooth functioning.

Effective Icebreakers Break the Surface Ice First Then Go Deep

I often recommend that new team leaders or facilitators start off by breaking just the groups’ surface-ice. This can be done with a fun and high-engagement exercise like the “The Crazy Name Game” and the “Potato Icebreaker” exercises (see videos below).

The crazy name game lets people interact with each other and hear and start remembering each other’s names. You may want to consider quickly moving through both of these icebreakers (name game; potato challenge) in quick succession depending on the time you have.

Once the group has interacted and starts to develop a basic comfort level, a nano-appreciative-enquiry talk can then be facilitated through a small group discussion format.

Now let’s take a closer look at these fast and highly effective Crazy Name Game and Potato Challenge Icebreakers as demonstrated in the following short instructional videos:

Awesome Icebreaker #1 The Crazy Name Game

About the Crazy Name Game Icebreaker:

The crazy name game is a great icebreaker. You want to keep the rules fun and light. "Bullying Bob" belongs in the "cookie-conflict" team video at the beginning of this post (Bullying is not fun or cool).

Can you imagine building on this icebreaker with a short micro-appreciative inquiry talk?

Awesome Icebreaker #2 "The Potato Challenge"

About The Potato Challenge Icebreaker:

This is a powerful surface icebreakers for the group facilitators tool kit. It quickly creates a climate of positive engagement through capturing attention and serious laughter. It promotes a real sense of success and accomplishment, because you'd never think a straw would cut through a potato so quickly and easily - but it does.

You can hyper-motivate participants by offering prizes for best potato break-through and best effort etc. This can build serious positive behavioral momentum, particularly if you frequently give away (small affordable and fun prizes) during game show style quizzes to promote and test team learning.


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