The word originates from so-called "icebreaker vessels", which are designed to break up ice in waterways to free ships that got stuck. The metaphor "breaking the ice" is also helpful because as the ice melts or breaks away water can move with ease and comfort. Similarly, an icebreaker in a professional or educational context helps the group to work together more easily.
So, are you are facilitating a group of students or professionals that struggling to get past that inevitable awkward silence? Then an icebreaker may be just what you need to kick things into action!
Why are Icebreakers Important?
When a group of people unfamiliar with each other gather for a meeting with the intention of achieving something, there is always going to be some initial anxiety or tension.
Icebreakers are helpful here because the "ice has to be melted" in order to achieve whatever it is that the group has gathered for.
Icebreakers work to familiarize group members with each other, break down barriers of communication and awkwardness, and ready the group to work together as a team.
Types of Icebreakers
When planning what icebreaker activity will work best for your group, consider some things:
- What is the size of the group?
- How familiar are people with each other?
- What are the personality types of participants?
- What space and time is available?
Depending on the answers to those questions, you can go ahead and choose the appropriate icebreaker.
For example, you might have personalities within the group that are more comfortable partaking in a silent writing activity, rather than one involving verbal presentations of each other.
Or, it might be that the group has already met once, and are more familiar with each other than some icebreaker activities are intended for.
Or, maybe the space of the meeting room or length of time that you have are limitations to the type of activity you can facilitate!
Here are are a few specific types of icebreakers, that you can consider using:
- Team-building icebreakers
- Introductory icebreakers
- Icebreaker questions
What are Examples of Popular Icebreaker Activities?
There are many icebreaker activities designed to suit different situations. Here are a few popular ones:
Split your group into pairs. Each partner can take a turn being the interviewer, interviewing the other with a set of common questions of your choosing, such as:
- What is your name?
- What are your hobbies?
- Which celebrity, dead or alive, would you invite to dinner?
At the end of the five-minute interviewing session, each partner can tell the rest of the group what their interviewee’s answers were to their questions.
This activity builds a connection between the partners and introduces each individual to the group, without the anxiety-inducing experience of having to introduce *yourself *to a group of unfamiliar people.
This activity would suit a group of 8 or more, and should only take around half an hour depending on how many are in the group.
Human Spider Web
Ask the team members to stand in a circle, reach out their left arm, and grab the left hand of the person standing opposite them.
Then, with their right hand, instruct them to grab the right hand of another team member across the circle from them.
Now that the team finds themselves in a tangle, instruct them to untangle themselves without ever letting go of each other's hands.
This activity should be given a time limit of up to ten minutes. In the end, the team will have accomplished a feat and will be left holding hands in a perfect circle.
This activity does not take long but requires a good amount of space. An outdoor setting is ideal.
This activity might be best after the team has already met or been introduced to each other so that people feel more comfortable with the physicality of it
In pandemic times, the close proximity and contact involved in this activity might make some people feel uncomfortable. Before getting into it, gauge whether this is of concern to any team members.
Two Truths and One Lie
Instruct members to stand in a circle. Each member will take a turn stating aloud their two truths and one lie. They might need some time to think of these before getting into it.
After each member states their two truths and one lie, the rest of the group guesses which statement was a lie- working together and using what they already know of the individual to come to a collective guess.
At the end of their turn, the member will reveal which statement was the false one!
This activity does not require much space or time, and is suitable for small and larger groups.
It does, however, require a level of confidence among the members as they must speak aloud to the group and undergo speculation of their statements.
For some, this activity could be anxiety-inducing. Gauge whether or not this might be suitable for the personality types in your group.
The Marshmallow Challenge
The Marshmallow Challenge is a great team-building activity.
Break the group into smaller even groups that will compete to build the tallest freestanding tower. Provide each group with the building materials: A bag of marshmallows, and a packet of dry spaghetti.
The smaller groups will work together to design and construct their towers, cooperating and facing potential minor conflicts in the process.
5-10 minutes is the recommended time limit for this activity, and it requires a decent amount of space for construction to take place.
This activity encourages communication in a way that is not anxiety-inducing!
Team members will naturally engage their competitive spirit and enjoy participating in this fun challenge while getting to know their team members.
Where/How can you Find Great Icebreakers?
Facilitation resources for icebreakers can be found on websites such as TINYpulse and Trainer Bubble.
These sites provide a wide range of suggestions for icebreaker activities, and how to facilitate them most effectively.
Where possible, have a casual chat with your group members one-on-one before facilitating an ice-breaker.
You might intuitively judge which icebreaker activity might work or not work for them, or you can ask them whether they would feel comfortable participating in your planned activity.
When planning icebreaker activities, consider time, space, the size of the group, and their prior familiarity with each other.
Being prepared with this information will help you to choose the best icebreaker for your team.
Be observant of any discomfort that may occur for members during the activity. Be ready with intervention tactics so that you can stop any uncomfortable situations from escalating!