Kicking off a staff meeting with creative ice breakers and team building activities does more than, well, break the ice. It can be inclusive for new team members, offer a bit of levity before a tense meeting, help coworkers to see each other as something other than just people who share the same office space, and is generally fun (if not taken too seriously). Remember, colleagues who laugh together, work better together. Ice breakers may even give you better insight into the office hermit, or a more nuanced understanding of your boss. The trick is finding inventive conversation starters that serve the team leader’s mission, yet don’t take too much time away from the meeting itself.
Need a good meeting icebreaker or two for your next conference room shindig? Here are some suggestions:
Breakers for Big Groups
These simple questions will take up less time than a full-on ice breaker game, especially if you've got a lot of people to go through. But they will still offer an amusing peak into your colleagues palate:
- What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
- What is your favorite food?
- What do you cook better than anyone else?
- What is your favorite candy bar?
- What would you want your last meal to be?
- What dish did your mom make better than any others?
Breakers for Medium-Sized Groups
Making small talk isn't always easy. But a bit of sharing isn’t a bad thing, provided it doesn’t get out of hand. If you have a decent amount of people, but not too many that it'll take up too much time, these are good questions to break the ice. These ice breaker questions may help you see your coworkers as actual human beings (and isn’t that the goal of team building?):
- If you could choose your “forever age,” what would it be and why?
- Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
- What’s the one thing in life you wish you had handled differently?
- What was the best day of your life and why?
- Name one missed opportunity that might have changed your life.
- What was your favorite song in high school and what memory is associated with it?
- What’s the biggest challenge you currently face?
Breakers for Small Groups
These ice breaker questions are conversation starters that may tell you a little more about your coworker than you wanted to know. Or, perhaps these icebreakers will give you some great insight into who you cube-dwell with. You may even have an ah-ha moment or two. They're great for smaller groups who work a lot together and really should get to know each other well.
- If you woke up tomorrow as an animal, which one would it be and why?
- What were the characteristics of the best boss you ever had and why?
- What talent do you have that you wish you could use in the office?
- How are you underutilized in your department?
- What’s your best secret for getting through a tough Monday?
- What famous person could take your place in the office?
- If money weren’t a consideration, what new skill or hobby would you pick up?
- What are the five essential qualities of a work culture that makes you feel engaged?
- What are you going to do when you retire?
Breakers for Very Small, Intimate Groups
We’d suggest employing these more personal questions only if your office has a particularly share-friendly culture. They're great for really intimate groups who work together on pretty much everything and should know eachother inside and out. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you could generate a few raised eyebrows with these.
- Why did you choose the name you did for your child?
- If there is a heaven, who would you most like to call there?
- What do you do when you feel fear?
- Which childhood book did you never forget?
- When did you first feel like an adult?
- Who is your personal muse?
- What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
- Who is your hero and why?
- Share a personal fact no one would ever guess about you.
Breakers for Everyone
These breakers are just pure fun. They may work to lighten the mood and break tension before an important meeting. A slightly obvious, but important, reminder: you should be laughing with your colleagues, not at them. Play nice, people!
- Are you known for making a pitch-perfect animal noise, and could you give it a try?
- Would you rather be President of the United States or a rock star?
- What is your favorite guilty pleasure TV Show?
- What famous person might you have been in a prior life and why?
- Which famous person would you never want to meet?
- What is the weirdest thing in your purse or pocket and why do you carry it?
- If you could only vacation in one location for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?
- Have you ever won a trophy or medal, and what for?
- Would you prefer to travel forward in time, or back?
Now that we’ve gone over some different kinds of icebreaker questions you can use for kicking meetings off, let’s take it the next level of true team building fun: ice breaker games!
You’ll need to divvy up your colleagues into groups for these; how many to a group is dependent on the size of your office, of course, but anywhere from 5-10 people in each group is suggested. The point of an ice breaker activity is to generate intimacy and camaraderie, and this is more easily done in smaller, more manageable groups.
Ice Breaker Games
Here are some funny conversation starters in the form of games.
1. Common Courtesy
This game, played in groups, is all about determining which group has the most things in common. Obvious, banal things — like body parts and gender, for instance — aren’t allowed. Each team will have to get creative, and get to talking, to learn 10 things all participants share in common before the other teams do (or before the clock runs out). At the end of game, each team will reveal their commonalities to the larger group.
2. Which Would You Rather
Have each group sit in a circle, identify a point person within each group, and hand that person a list of the following “Which Would You Rather” icebreaker questions (plus some of your own, too). For the next 10 or so minutes, let them take it from there!
- Would you rather: Have to listen to Nickleback or Maroon 5 for the rest of your life?
- Would you rather: Live in a penthouse in a big city or in a bungalow on the beach?
- Would you rather: Always have to say every single thing you think, or never be able to speak again?
- Would you rather: Have the hiccups for your rest of your life, or always feel like you have to sneeze (without actually sneezing)?
- Would you rather: Be famous when you’re alive but forgotten after you die, or unknown when you’re alive but famous for forever after?
- Would you rather: Be able to see the future, or be able to re-do the past?
- Would you rather: Be swelteringly hot, or be artically cold?
- Would you rather: Be able to fly, or be able to breathe underwater?
- Would you rather: Be able to fly anywhere for free anytime you wanted, or have your tab permanently covered at all restaurants?
3. Hidden Talent Show
In this ice breaker activity, participants have to not only divulge their secret talent, but demonstrate it, too, in a 30-second, speed-round talent show. Not only is it simple and a great icebreaker, but it’s bound to bring out the humor of those on your team, too.
Get some post-it notes, and have each person in the group write down one thing they’ve done in life that most people wouldn’t necessarily guess. Then, put the paper in a hat and shuffle it up. Pass the hat around, have each person draw a post-it note and try to guess which group member did that thing (is the title of this ice-breaker game making more sense now?). Let the revelatory conversation begin!
5. Candy Crushin’ It
For this fun icebreaker game, you’ll need a big bowl of multi-colored M&M’s. Assign any one of the aforementioned questions to a particular color (it’ll probably help if you write down the question-color correlations for everyone to see, too). Then, go around in a circle and have people draw out their candy/question. Hopefully there aren’t any major germaphobes in your office — though if there are, that could also serve as an ice breaker too, in a way!
All of these should certainly work as meeting icebreakers, but they have to be used wisely and in a controlled way — there shouldn’t be any crying involved with ice breakers. But a few laughs, some clues into your boss and coworkers’ psyches, and a little fun can be just the ticket to instant team building and a better, more collaborative staff meeting. And afterward, it might make life a little better back at the cube-farm, as well!
About the Career Expert:
Donna is a freelance writer with a particular interest in the issues, struggles, loves, and dreams of women. She writes all about it on her blog, alovelyinconsequence.blogspot.com.