A quick icebreaker game may not make or break a meeting, but it can help people do better work over time.
Icebreaker activities are meant to get people to relax and share their fun side, says Muse career coach Tara Goodfellow. With the fun comes the opportunity to learn more about your co-workers and develop relationships outside the confines of work tasks. Strong relationships, in turn, can reduce stress and help you succeed as people start supporting your ideas and trusting you with better projects.
“We tend to gravitate towards the same people,” says Muse career coach Theresa Merrill. So icebreakers are also a tool to get different people to talk to each other and share more about themselves—and maybe even “learn something about somebody that you maybe misjudged,” Merrill says—which contributes to the very important goal of building an inclusive work environment.
When introducing icebreakers into your meetings, Muse career coach Alex Durand suggests making their purpose clear to your colleagues. “Remind them to have fun, but it’s really important to make sure the people know the rules of the icebreakers so that everyone feels comfortable,” he says. “Icebreakers are best when they’re fun and not forced.” To that end, Durand also recommends giving people the opportunity to lead their own icebreakers or suggest new ideas for activities and games.
And don’t forget that it’s important to tailor the icebreaker to the situation and the people involved, whether it’s a weekly team standup, a quarterly board meeting, or an orientation for new hires. Ask yourself these questions to find the perfect icebreaker games and activities for your group.
How Energetic Are People Feeling?
Recognizing the energy level in the room and matching it with an appropriate icebreaker activity can help release excess energy or motivate everyone to jump in.
Your team is energetic and excited! It seems like everyone’s already had one (or maybe a few) cups of coffee. Try:
- Charades: A classic family game makes an appearance at the office with a twist. Have people take turns picking an animal they think is the most like them. Make sure they don’t share it out loud. Instead, have them describe the animal with only gestures and movements—no sounds! Everyone else in the room tries to guess the correct animal. You can also switch it up and try acting out your favorite movie, food, or hobby.
- Scavenger hunt: This icebreaker takes a bit more planning, but in some cases it’s worth it to get people moving before (or as part of) a meeting. Hide clues around the office that guide people to a final location. Clues can be themed or not and lead people toward co-workers’ desks or other spots in the office. This can also be a fun and active way for new hires to learn about the company along with its culture, people, and office space.
If people seem a bit sluggish, these icebreakers can help them recharge.
- Mini meditation: Mindfulness is all the rage right now. Bring a bit of zen into the office by giving your team two to five minutes to reflect in silence. After everyone’s mini meditation, go around the room to share one goal they have for the day, whether it’s work-related or not.
- Personal best: For those who are worn out or even burnt out, reflecting can help them pause and find their motivation again. Go around the room and have everyone share a personal best or success story (depending on how frequently this group gets together, you can share accomplishments from the last week or even the last year or two). Hearing about the things your co-workers are proud of can give you some insight into what they care about and how they approach their work.
How Many People Are Attending The Meeting?
Small and large meetings call for different icebreaker activities because the size of the group not only dictates how much time the icebreakers will take, but also affects how likely people are to know each other.
Large, Cross-Departmental Meetings
Meetings with mostly unfamiliar faces and people who haven’t interacted much prior can be awkward. Try:
- Speed dating: Pair everyone up with someone they don’t know. Have them ask each other questions to learn about each other’s work experiences, hobbies, and interests. You can let everyone have a freeform conversation or point them in a certain direction with a few prompts. If there’s time, have pairs introduce each other to the rest of the people in the meeting.
- Things in common: Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and try to come up with 3 things in common between all the people in the meeting. To keep the icebreaker under control, go around and have people suggest ideas for commonalities until you’ve reached 3 or the timer rings! You’ll learn fun facts about your co-workers and hopefully come away feeling more connected.
Small Team Meetings
You might think it’s unnecessary to incorporate icebreakers in meetings with the people you work with most closely, but they can still be a rejuvenating and productive addition. You can:
- Recognize colleague wins: Everyone in the room has to share a positive note—a work-related compliment or congratulations—about the person sitting to their right. The positivity in the room will rejuvenate the team!
- Share your favorite photo/GIF/meme: Have everyone in the room pick and share the best photo, GIF, or meme they encountered recently.
Who’s in the Room and How Are They Feeling?
Think about the personalities of the folks gathering, the mood they seem to be in, and the kind of environment you’re trying to foster for an upcoming meeting. If you think people will be feeling...
Get the creative juices flowing with these hands-on activities that spur people to think in new ways.
- Drawing challenge: Assign each person in the room one part of a whole drawing. For example, if you’re drawing people, assign the head, torso, arms, and legs (if needed, keep going with feet, hands, hats, etc.). Pass out blank paper and markers or colored pencils and have each person draw their part. Then pass the papers around the room, with each person adding their part to every sheet, until each drawing is complete and you can revel in your collaborative (and perhaps messy) masterpieces.
- Marshmallow and spaghetti building competition: It might sound like a middle school science project, but this icebreaker is great for people who enjoy working with their hands. Break people up into teams and provide each group with marshmallows and dry spaghetti. The team that builds the tallest standing structure out of these two materials in a set amount of time wins.
If you find yourself in a room full of office comedians—or if you’re just trying to lighten the mood—these are the perfect icebreakers.
- Share a joke: Go around the room and have everyone share their best joke. You can even reward the funniest joke with a small prize.
- No laughing game: Everyone has to bring out their best jokes again for this icebreaker, but no one can laugh! Set a timer for two to three minutes, and see if everyone makes it to the end without laughing.
Not everyone is fit to be the class clown, and not every meeting is appropriate to begin with jokes. People can be shy, especially if they’re new to a job. These icebreakers help facilitate conversation without adding stress.
- Describe in one word: If you’re leading the meeting, plan a few prompts people can respond to in one word. For example, “Describe yourself in one word,” or, “Describe our office in one word.” One-word answers shouldn’t be too stressful to come up with and hopefully will give everyone an opportunity to talk (just a little) and warm up so they’ll feel comfortable in the meeting.
- Bowl of questions: Write out questions on slips of paper and put them in a bowl. Take turns picking the questions out of the bowls and have everyone answer them. Questions don’t have to be related to work. Instead ask, “What superpower would you like to have?” or “What’s the last great movie you watched?” (Try to keep things on the lighter side—questions like “What’s your favorite childhood memory?” or “What are you most grateful for?” might seem innocent enough, but not everyone wants to share truly personal details in a work setting.) I remember doing this activity on my first day at The Muse, and it was a great way to get to know my manager and fellow interns in a stress-free environment.