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Meeting Icebreakers: A Guide to Easing Tension and Strengthening Team Spirit

Not all personality types enjoy being in the spotlight. Many people prefer not to speak on a subject without thoughtful introspection first, and some prefer not to speak at all. This can make it difficult for leaders to receive the feedback they need from their coworkers and staff. With that said, have you ever wondered when — or why — meeting icebreakers became so popular?

Well, we’re here to tell you all about it. In this post, we take a deep dive into the history of meeting icebreakers. Keep reading to discover why we started using icebreakers, explore some of our favorite (and least favorite) icebreaker ideas, and much more.

What are meeting icebreakers?

When it comes to being a meeting attendee, there are primarily two distinct groups of people: participators and non-participators. At their highest level, icebreakers are used to encourage participation from everyone in a group. 

To put it simply, icebreakers are fun activities or exercises that help people get to know one another before the official “start” of a meeting. Icebreakers start conversations between individuals or coworkers, relieve tension in a stressful situation, help those participating release their inhibitions, and much more.

In addition to sparking conversation, icebreakers are energy boosters. Many meeting icebreakers are physical activities. They get the creative juices flowing by getting the blood moving in the body. These activities can be verbal, physical, or both.

Do meeting icebreakers really benefit anyone?

Not only do they help encourage participation, but meeting icebreakers are a fantastic tool that can help even the most shy individuals be comfortable speaking up. They can also be used to help a new employee who may not know anyone else in the group feel welcome by finding similarities that participants share. 

Icebreakers are simple, fun activities that can also create or strengthen bonds, improve productivity, and increase efficiency. There is a distinct link between the level of participation in adults and the comfort they feel in their environment. The more comfortable a person is, the more likely they are to engage in discussion, take on a problem-solving attitude, and retain information.

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What icebreakers are the most beneficial for meetings and team building?

In the business world, we commonly find ourselves in meetings surrounded by people we don’t know. At conventions, conferences, workshops, or even regional meetings, you’re bound to see some new faces. 

An introductory or “getting-to-know-you” icebreaker can be used to introduce individuals to one another, as well as identify similarities and differences between each other. This type of icebreaker can be as simple as telling a few facts about yourself, or as complex as an intricate physical challenge designed to build trust and strengthen the team dynamic. 

Team-building icebreakers can be incredibly effective in the workplace. Typically, they’re designed to help the group start the process of breaking up into teams. In addition to building trust, team-building icebreakers can improve communication and the ability of individuals to work together as a group. 

Brainstorming icebreakers are an excellent choice during lengthy meetings when the group needs to refocus or re-energize. There are many different team-building icebreakers to choose from, depending on the formality of the occasion, the individuals in attendance, and the purpose of the meeting itself. 

Team-building icebreakers have a few distinct main goals: 

  • Encourage cohesiveness and unity by working together
  • Build trust
  • Strengthen bonds or communication pathways
  • Promote a collaborative environment
  • Engage critical thinking and problem-solving abilities

The “ball challenge,” “hopes, fears, and expectations,” and “two truths and a lie” are a few of our favorite team-building icebreakers. Here’s how they work.

The ball challenge

  • The goal: Promote inclusion and encourage the group to focus on shared goals.  
  • Instructions: The group forms a circle with a beach ball or other light-weight ball. The activity leader will begin by announcing their name, stating the name of another team member, and then passing the ball to the person they named. Once everyone in the circle has received and thrown the ball, and all names have been announced, the team sets a timer to make the second round more challenging. This round, the team will have to complete the previous exercise in a fixed time limit. The game can continue for a few rounds as the time limit gets shorter, or the circle gets smaller.

Hopes, fears, and expectations

  • The goal: Find commonality between participants and stimulate verbal communication. This exercise is beneficial when participants already have a clear picture of their overall goals and their challenges as a team.
  • Instructions: Create breakout sessions consisting of smaller groups, 2-3 people each, depending on the overall size of the team. Ask each group to discuss their hopes for the outcome of the meeting, what fears they have about the project or event, and their expectations for the final outcome. The coordinator will take a few ideas from each breakout group and present them to the team to discuss as a whole. More often than not, these conversations will illuminate the similar hopes and goals team members share, as well as give the team leader a clear understanding of the group expectations.  

Two truths and a lie

  • The goal: Encourage meeting participants to get to know each other both by sharing information about themselves and showcasing their sense of humor with their ability to “lie” about something.
  • Instructions: Form groups of 5-10 people and arrange the participants in a circle. Tell each participant to think of three statements about themselves. However, only two of those statements can be true. One of them has to be a lie. Once everyone has their three statements ready, ask each participant to share their statements one by one. After all three statements are shared, everyone else in the group votes on which statement they think is a lie and which statements they think are true. Once voting is finished, the participant shares which of the three statements was a lie.

Are there any bad meeting icebreaker ideas?

Before choosing which icebreakers to use at your next team meeting, make sure the activities are appropriate and helpful. Avoid icebreakers that:

  • Make people feel unintelligent. Don’t use icebreakers focused on difficult trivia or answering impossible questions. 
  • Embarrass others. Under no circumstances should you employ icebreakers that will humiliate the participants. The goal is to help everyone feel at ease, not embarrassed or uncomfortable. 
  • Frustrate participants. Don’t overcomplicate the activities. If participants get frustrated with hard-to-follow directions, it will ruin the energy in the room and make people less likely to communicate. 
  • Divide the group or exclude anyone. The whole purpose is team building, so avoid breaking people into the same groups over and over. Don’t include any activities that individuals in the group may not be able to participate in.
  • Are boring. We want to stimulate energy and creativity, not put people to sleep. 

Always keep the icebreaker participants and their personalities in the forefront of your mind. Don’t overstep appropriate boundaries or force employees to participate in activities that they’re not comfortable with. 

Meeting icebreakers: Outdated exercises or the perfect fit for modern company culture?

While many view icebreaker activities as annoying or silly corporate culture requirements, they are incredibly beneficial for many reasons. Adding an icebreaker to your meeting is one of the most effective ways to get attendees or group participants to begin to engage with each other, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar they are.

In fact, icebreakers have been shown to improve three main workplace categories: Community, interaction, and empathy. In the modern workplace, where we find ourselves more separated by screens, we often feel like we have nothing in common with our coworkers. A productive and efficient team atmosphere often relies on building trust and finding commonality amongst the group. Whether it’s taking part in a silly physical activity or engaging in a roundtable discussion, icebreakers are an ideal way to tackle these hurdles while fostering positivity, creativity, and even humor.

There are icebreakers for every occasion!

Whether indoor or outdoor, professional or casual, there’s an icebreaker for every occasion. When choosing which activity will best suit your group, consider the following factors: 

  • Physical environment 
  • Professional environment 
  • Size of group 
  • Seating arrangement 
  • Limitations of participants 
  • The goal of the meeting or discussion 
  • Time constraints 
  • Who will be leading and who will be assisting the leader 

Frequently asked questions about meeting icebreakers:

How do I choose an icebreaker?

There’s an icebreaker out there for everyone: the bold, the shy, the loud, and the anxious. Try different activities to gauge what the meeting participants respond well to, and don’t use the same exercises over and over again for the same group.

What are some good icebreaker questions?

Keep it simple, but look for areas where individuals may identify things they have in common. Asking participants to list a piece of good advice, their dream job, or hobbies they are passionate about will promote stimulating discussion. 

How do icebreakers promote team building?

Icebreakers promote team building in a myriad of ways. By encouraging group discussion, building trust, promoting creativity, increasing inclusion, and encouraging group problem-solving, icebreakers can be beneficial for any team and any meeting.

How long should an icebreaker take?

It depends, but typically, icebreakers should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. They should help promote the primary purpose for a meeting, not distract from it.