This time I would like to talk about a tool which I consider it’s a bit undervalued: ice breakers. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, we’ll call ice breakers to small activities whose purpose is to “break the ice” and make it easy for people to start a teamwork-focused session. They are commonly used, for example, in meetups or conferences where activities between unknown people are proposed. 

In this post I’ll focus on the benefits they have for our teams. Concretely, the benefits we get if we include small ice breakers before our meetings or teamwork sessions.

Great advantages at low cost

First of all, let’s start by what matters: why would I incorporate ice breakers in my day-to-day? 

The benefits of these small activities may be subtle, but they have a great impact, mainly on the team. Cost-benefit relation improves even more if we take into account that they require very little time (5-15 minutes) and resources.

  • First of all, they help the team to break with the work context and switch to a teamwork session one. Doing an ice breaker before a meeting will create a mental barrier between work and that meeting. For example, it’s very useful in retrospectives, where we want people to be focused on evaluating what happened on the past weeks. If we have someone thinking in the retrospective and, at the same time, on the problem they was trying to resolve, we won’t be taking all the advantage of that session.
  • On the other hand, much ice breakers require creative objectives so they get our mind to a more creative state. This state is really valuable for our sessions because it will help our people to create more interesting and creative ideas.
  • Furthermore, they can help team members to know each other better. Every person is different and putting all of those personalities on the table may make them more human and get them closer.
  • There could also be ice breakers which require teamwork, boosting collaboration.
  • And, as a result of the previous points, they help to make team building and improve trust between team members. Knowing better each other team members and opening us to them improves our ability to intimate. Furthermore, collaborating to achieve common goals contributes to reducing our self-orientation.
team working fun
By Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Looking for a good ice breaker

Not all activities are good ice breakers. In order to take the most advantage of them we must pay attention to some details before choosing an ice breaker.

  • On the one hand, they must be nice and funny. They mustn’t be seen as an imposition and people must enjoy them. This way we’ll help to reinforce even more the barrier between work and the team session.
  • Related to the previous point, we must pay attention to activities which may not be culturally appropriate or which may make someone feel uncomfortable.
  • Whenever possible, we’ll try to look for collaborative exercises.
  • We must avoid “winners” and “losers” perceptions as much as possible. We don’t want to transform our activity in a contest or competition, but in a collaborative exercise.
  • Another aspect to take into account is to look for ice breakers which require creativity. We may lean on activities or ideas which require using senses. From painting, giving more weight to the view, to using sounds, and letting our hearing work.
  • It also helps a lot to work with visual or manual material because it makes our exercise more tangible and foster creativity.
  • In order to achieve a greater implication and sense of belonging of ice breakers we can use strategies like letting them to be proposed by team members.
  • To take advantage of the learnings and memories from ice breakers, we can look for ways to immortalize them. It could be as simple as taking photos of their results and creating a wall with all of them.
people with lego toons
By Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

Our experience with ice breakers

We mainly use ice breakers in retrospectives. At the beginning of every session a different team member proposes an ice breaker, which we perform in no more than 15 minutes.

Despite it may seem hard to create this kind of activities, it becomes easier as the time goes by. And for those who don’t want to get complicated, there are hundreds of interesting ice breakers on the internet. 

Today I wanted to share with you three ice breakers which we tried and liked

Poetry recital

The goal is that, taking a look back, every member has to write four verses about how they lived the two past weeks. Then every person will read their verses voice aloud.

It can be a very interesting tool to, in a funny way, get the personal point of view of every team member about the past period.

Exquisite corpse

The name has its origin on the surrealist techniques. First we have to create three groups. Then, each of them must draw a piece of a figure, without seeing what other groups do. Finally, we join all the pieces to obtain the final figure. For example: we could ask them to draw how would their team be if it was a person. A group will draw the legs, another one the torso and the last one, the head.

It not only creates funny situations when putting all pieces together, but also helps us to better understand the individual visions of every team member (and to see them joint!).

Coat of arms

In this case, we’ll ask our team to draw a coat of arms. It may be about anything we want to know about every member’s point of view. For example: how would the coat of arms of your team be, or the personal one, or even the company one.

Again, it could be an interesting tool to foster creativity and get the individual or joint vision of every team member about an specific topic.

I hope I encouraged you to try ice breakers in your team sessions. For us, ice breakers have become a very important and powerful tool to boost our team and which create really funny situations. On the other hand, and despite we’ll continue publishing other ice breakers, I encourage you to share those you have tried and liked.