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Breaking the Ice
Getting team members to engage openly and freely right out of the gate is a challenge. On a day full of discussions, beginning the first conversation is always hard, especially when there has been considerable time since the last team meeting. Activities that break the ice, as the metaphor suggests, warm team members up and promote more participation and candidness from the start.
To start a meeting day, good leaders value the use of icebreakers to create the conditions for more fluid conversations to follow. While there is nothing wrong with activities that are fun or get people to know more about each other, the primary goal of an icebreaker is to make team members more comfortable discussing matters candidly in the very first discussion.
Icebreakers don’t need to be lengthy, hokey, or frivolous. All reasons why many leaders avoid using them. Effective icebreakers simply need to create the comfort required for open discussion.
A great icebreaker takes 20 minutes or less and gets people talking to each other. While activities for large groups will differ from those for small teams, the best icebreakers get the job done with simple instructions and a fast-paced scheme.
For instance, the simple icebreaker One Word asks team members to describe who they are, what they stand for, or what they’re most excited about in one word. After everyone offers their word without commentary, team members then explain their word choice before others can ask questions for clarity. Depending on the size of the group, this icebreaker, like all good designs, takes a short time and gets people talking.
Lengthy meetings and full meeting days that begin with an icebreaker are noticeably different from those that go right into a serious discussion. Once the conversational pump is primed by a good icebreaker, leaders find the group is more comfortable engaging openly throughout the day. Even virtual meetings can benefit from a well-designed icebreaker, as they break the initial awkwardness and tension so common when interacting in a mediated space.
Melting the ice is what good leaders and meeting facilitators do to prepare the group to dig into healthy debate and discussion. The best icebreakers model energy, comfort, and openness for the rest of the day or meeting. Getting team members to talk about themselves in some way is always a good idea. They generally prefer that topic over all others.