Icebreaker Activities


Got 5 minutes? Then you've got time to start making the personal connections that help us do our best work together. We hand-picked a few that build relationships as well as help move your work forward. 

AND I NEED THIS... WHY?

There was a time when a team's strength was measured in terms of its output. Now, savvy leaders are realizing a team's strength comes from trust and belonging.

n this age of cross-functional agile teams, team membership changes depending on the project, with members filling a variety of job roles. This is also a Good Thing™. The catch is that fewer shared skills and experiences means it takes longer to build trust between teammates.

Building trust and belonging is a sound investment. Just be prepared to play the long game. Getting to know each other on a personal level can't be forced. It happens gradually through casual banter at our desks or before meetings, pick-up ball games at lunch, team dinners, etc. And, of course, by working together toward a common goal.

WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED?

Your team, or whoever you've assembled for a meeting or offsite.

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If key performance indicators (KPIs) feel too one-dimensional, try the Goals, Signals, and Measures play instead.
People

3-100

Time

5-30 min

Difficulty

Easy

Running the play

Pull these tricks out of your hat when you're waiting for people to trickle into a meeting, or at the beginning of an offsite centered on brainstorming and problem-solving. Have fun!

MATERIALS

SUPER QUICK ICEBREAKER QUESTIONS

Got a minute or two while people trickle into the meeting? Toss out a question and have a bit of fun. 

QUESTIONS WITH PURPOSE

What will be the title of your autobiography?

  • Theme: Summarizing complex events or concepts
  • Purpose: Prepare for activities like crafting a vision statement.

 

What is your superhero name?

  • Theme: Naming stuff is hard!
  • Purpose: Practice packing a lot of info into a single, evocative word or phrase.

 

Who was your first mentor, and what qualities made them a good (or lousy) one?

  • Theme: Teamwork and support is important
  • Purpose: Reinforce the idea that relying on each other is a part of growth – good for projects or teams with lots of dependencies.

 

When did you call customer service to complain? 

  • Theme: Empathizing with customers
  • Purpose: Remembering what it feels like to be on the customer side of a bad product or service puts us in a compassionate frame of mind before discussing trade-offs or designing a new user experience.

 

What is one thing you learned from a project that went wrong? 

  • Theme: Failures are learning opportunities
  • Purpose: Focus on risk identification and mitigation.

 

"JUST FOR FUN" QUESTIONS

Print and assemble one of our icebreaker dice for a little extra fun, or just choose one of the questions below.

  • What animal would you choose to be, and why? 
  • What is the last dream you remember? 
  • How do you let teammates know you're in deep work mode? 
  • Where would you vacation if money were no object?
  • Books, magazines, or podcasts?
  • What car did you learn to drive on?
  • What is one thing you're grateful for today? 
  • When you read or watch TV, do you go for fiction or non-fiction?
  • Coffee, tea, or soda?
  • Can you remember a bumper sticker that made you smile? 

 

FILL IN THE BLANKS

I have never ________________.

My friends love me for my ________________.

If my pet could talk, it would say ________________.

One ____________ is better than ten ________________.

ICEBREAKER ACTIVITIES FOR MEETINGS, OFFSITES, ETC.

Exorcise the Demons (10 min)

Best for groups of 3 or more. Use this activity to juice up your neuropathways before brainstorming or problem-solving, and have a few belly laughs. 

  1. Introduce the topic you'll be brainstorming around, or the problem you'll be trying to solve. 
  2. Using a whiteboard or butcher paper, ask the group to grab a marker and write down the worst ideas they can think of
  3. After a few minutes, step back and take 'em all in (we dare you not to bust up laughing!). 
  4. (optional) Ask each person to share their favorite worst idea and why it stood out to them. 

This exercise helps us resist the temptation to self-censor when the real problem solving begins. Because hey: you've already heard the worst ideas the group can come up with. Now that you've flushed them out of your system, you can proceed with your regularly-scheduled brainstorming.

 

Mystery Person Group Sort (15-30 min)

Best for groups of 20 or more. Use this activity to kickstart creative thinking and see different thought processes in action. 

  1. Ask each person to write a surprising fact about themselves on an index card, and drop all the cards into a bag, box, or hat.
  2. Each person chooses a card at random. 
  3. Now the fun begins. Stand up, mingle, and find cards that align to a theme or are of a type. Keep an open mind when thinking about what constitutes the common threads. It could be "daredevil tendencies", "origin stories", "music", or anything else. There is no limit to how big each grouping can be, but you must find groupings that accommodate all the cards. 
  4. Have each group read their cards and share the theme they identified.
  5. (optional) Now, having heard the groupings chosen so far, invite the group to stand up and re-sort themselves. Some groupings will likely stay the same, while others will be dramatically different. 

Notice how the point of the exercise was not to figure out which fact goes with which person? That's on purpose. In fact, remember to let participants know that at the beginning of the exercise in order to stave off any anxieties around it.

Telephone Charades (15 min)

Best for groups of 10 or more. Use this non-verbal activity to, oddly enough, warm up for a day of listening. 

  1. Divide into teams of 5-8 people. 
  2. Ask one team to come to the front of the room and stand in a line, all facing in the same direction (it's important that they can't see the person standing behind them). 
  3. Show the person at the back of the line a word to act out silently, but don't have them do so just yet. Show it to the "audience" as well so they know what's up, but make sure nobody else in the line sees it.
  4. When the person at the back of the line is ready, they will tap the shoulder of the person standing in front of them. That person turns around so now the two are standing face to face (but again: the rest of the line continues facing forward). 
  5. The person acting pantomimes the word as best they can. Do it 2 or 3 times so the person watching can really absorb and memorize the movements. But do not tell them the word being acted out!
  6. Now the person watching becomes the actor – they tap the person in front of them and repeat the pantomime as best they can. (You see where this is going, right?)
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until everyone in the line has seen the pantomime.
  8. Laugh your arse off as the pantomime morphs dramatically from how the person at the back of the line originally acted out the word. 
  9. If the person at the front of the line can correctly guess the word, that team scores a point. 

Make sure each team gets a chance to act, and go until you cry "uncle". Looking for words to have the teams act out? Try these: mermaid, lawn sprinkler, firefighter, Gollum, light bulb, snow shovel, jet ski, surfer, walkie-talkie, frying pan.

Three Things (5-10 min)

Best for groups of 5 or more. Use this fast-paced activity to trigger quick, unfiltered thinking before a brainstorming session. 

  1. Circle up and choose a person to kick things off – we'll call them Person A. 
  2. Person A turns to the person next to them (Person B) and names a category – e.g., "types of sandwiches". 
  3. Person B rattles off 3 things that fit into that category as fast as they can. No judgement and no self-censoring!
  4. When they're done, the entire group give a clap and yells "Three things!"
  5. Go around the circle until everyone has had a chance to name the category and name the three things. 

The point isn't to make sure all things named fit the category perfectly, or to come up with the wittiest response. Just let your brains relax so your neurons can fire quickly. Celebrate even the oddest contributions and set an anything-goes tone before diving into more cerebral, strategic activities. 

 

Nailed it?

Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.

Find your Health Monitor

Variations

GAME ON

For more, check out this list of icebreaker games from our pals at Culture Amp. 

Follow-ups

If you snapped pictures or grabbed video (especially of Telephone Charades), share them afterward. Try to resist getting a case of the giggles all over again – and good luck with that.

Related Plays

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