An Icebreaker Activity is also called an energizer, meeting warm-up and team building or ‘get to know you’ game. I like to refer to them as Ice Melters, because you want to warm up a group, not cause a chill. I will explain further as we review the purpose, process and pay-off or outcomes of these activities.
Whether you are starting an employee training session, speaking at a seminar, or leading a meeting, an icebreaker activity is a great way to begin. They can energize the group at the beginning of the day or meeting or pick up the enthusiasm after lunch. These activities often have the purpose of introductions for people who just met, or for groups to get to know each other a little better. The intent may also be to break down some walls, and set aside differences.
The purpose may also be to segue, or lead into a training topic or agenda item. Often the rationale is to get people talking or interacting with each other. Intentional activities can improve communication, increasing people’s confidence to share and contribute. Ultimately, a well-selected icebreaker can add variety, fun and a social element to the learning experience or meeting. First step is thinking about what you want to achieve with the activity.
Which icebreaker activity you pick and how you run the activity are important aspects to consider. NEVER embarrass someone, make them feel dumb, or cause someone to uncomfortably stand-out. An inappropriate activity can increase anxiety for participants. For example if the activity is very physical and you know one or two people can’t participate, this defeats the purpose of a ‘group’ activity, and is the opposite of team-building. You want to warm up the group, not add to the tension, or cause a chill in the room.
However, these activities can and perhaps should challenge people and stretch their comfort zones a little. You may receive some eye rolling when you tell the group that you are starting with an icebreaker (game or group activity). Nevertheless, there are good reasons why you should include ‘icebreakers’ in your planning. Taking the time to know your audience, group members or participants is an important step to selecting the right activities. [Perhaps have a few back-up options for you to pick from.]
Part of the decision process is considering:
- how long the activity will take,
- how much room you require,
- what resources you may need to bring or have on hand
- and are the activities a ‘fit’ with the group?
Some activities may be part of the training process, however icebreakers are typically a quick way to get things going, or bring the group back on track. If the first activity takes too long, and is not related to the topic of the training or meeting focus (which is ok), people may not understand the purpose of why so much time would be spent on an icebreaker. If you can read the group, or understand the dynamics and culture of your participants, you may need to provide a context to the purpose of the activity. Other times, if you ‘spell it out’, and tell people that you are going to run an activity to increase their participation (and get them talking), this could have an opposite effect. Don’t let this discourage you, some great reasons for why to include icebreakers is next!
Pay-off or Why:
Starting a meeting or learning session with a great icebreaker activity can boost engagement, and participation in group discussions. Another pay-off or benefit, from including icebreakers (at your meetings/trainings), is that it can give people something to talk about or laugh about later. They are a great way for people to interact differently with each other, than they may typically do. Having some personality outside the day to day activities, can build moral and a sense of community within a group. Good teambuilding can be a step in the right direction, if you need to shift a culture within a workplace or group dynamics. Developing a comradery beyond job titles, can also lead to better productivity, because communication has improved. Taking a team approach, and balancing power dynamics can open-up discussions and brainstorming, which may not occur without a good warm-up activity.
Who knew that picking and leading a fun icebreaker activity could be complicated. This may be why I never liked being responsible for picking and facilitating icebreakers in the past. Now, I am excited about selecting the right activity for a training session. This shift in my comfort zone was because I conducted some research, in order to lead a meeting on this topic. To review icebreaker games ideas and resources (including items you can purchase from different companies), here is our Pinterest resource folder: https://www.pinterest.ca/regiereducation/icebreakers/ . I also feature a few resources on this YouTube video below. By the way I am in a toque, because the background is icy 😉
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About the Author
Patricia Regier is a learning experience designer, and sought after content creator and speaker. She brings twenty years of experience working within the non-profit sector, developing programs, building collaborative partnerships and providing workplace education. Her Master of Adult Education and BA in Psychology pairs academic knowledge with practical experience. REGIER EDUCATIONAL SERVICES’ mission is to support professional speakers and facilitators reach the the variety in their audience. To request more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org