We’re going to play a word association game today.  When I say “Icebreakers” what words immediately come to mind?  Waste of time / not this again / I hate these things / how can I get out of here / you can’t make me participate / panic / fear / frustration / WooHoo, I love these games! (seriously, some people really do enjoy them).  And, I know at least one of you was picturing a coast guard cutter breaking up the ice in frozen waters.

Icebreakers are meant to connect the group and help them interact better, but, more times than not they create more tension / discomfort and drive people farther apart.  Many people don’t like to be the center of attention or want to reveal how uninteresting their lives are.  Don’t think it’s an introvert only thing.  Both introverts and extroverts avoid icebreakers because they cause anxiety, they feel forced, and they don’t really break the ice.

So, should you use an icebreaker exercise or drop it?

If you can craft a positive experience it will do wonders for your meeting.  A properly executed icebreaker can be very effective and improve group dynamics.  On the other hand, a bad icebreaker experience can have damaging and lasting effects on group learning and behavior.

Here are some suggestions to help you create the positive icebreaker experience.

Know your reason for wanting to use an icebreaker.  Is it so the group can get to know each other, build trust, check to see where they are related to the topic, start conversations, build a sense of community, or some other reason?  Share the reason for the icebreaker with the group.

Knowing what you want to accomplish with the icebreaker will help you choose the right exercise.  You’ll also need to consider the event and the participants when choosing the exercise.  You don’t want one that will make your team uncomfortable or agitated.

Pick the right time to insert the icebreaker.  Not every icebreaker needs to go at the beginning of the event.  Depending on your objective you could introduce the icebreaker after lunch or in the middle of the afternoon when the energy is falling.

Keep it simple, that goes for the game and the instructions.  The easier it is to understand and execute, the higher the chances are the people will engage and participate

Allow enough time for the exercise, don’t rush it.  You want to create a relaxed environment.  Move through the group during the exercise so you can monitor the participants and see if anyone is disengaged, anxious, or uncomfortable.  Keep people focused on the objective of the exercise.

Debrief the team when the icebreaker is over to show them how it benefited them and how it fit in with the meeting.  Use these learnings throughout the day.

I also have suggestions on what not to do.  Please don’t:

  • Force people to participate
  • Require participants to touch each other
  • Make people share too much personal information

You can have more than one icebreaking activity during your event and you don’t have to refer to them as icebreakers.  You can call them energy connectors, discussion starters, creative interruptions, interactive content, etc.

People learn better when they are engaged and having fun.  Well planned icebreakers can be a powerful tool for learning and connecting groups.

So, are you going to break the ice at your next meeting or not?

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