What is an ice breaker?
When people come together in groups, there’s often a sense of trepidation. Who will be there? Will there be any conflict? Am I using my time effectively? Who are all these other people, anyway? A facilitator will usually come equipped with an ice breaker. An ice breaker is an activity that helps people learn more about each other and find their feet in terms of collaborating towards a shared goal.
Why do we use ice breakers when facilitating groups?
Facilitators use icebreakers to help people feel comfortable in coming together to work as a group. A good icebreaker warms the group up in several ways:
- It moderates the energy level so that everyone’s starting from the same place;
- It helps people get to know eachother before having to work together;
- It can introduce concepts being used later in the workshop or meeting (for example, by allowing people to share expectations)
One thing most ice breakers have in common is that they’re usually interactive, and leave people feeling positive about the session to come. The end result is usually that workshop participants feel comfortable in the physical meeting space, they understand the objective of the meeting and they feel engaged, understood and heard right from the outset. They also level the playing field.
When should you use an ice breaker?
It’s often taken for granted that groups and teams know eachother intimately and feel comfortable sharing in decision making. That’s not always the case. People often need to reconnect and re-establish relationships with their peers. But new teams or groups, especially, need to feel comfortable with the people they’re gathering with.
You should definitely use an ice breaker in the following situations:
- The group is new and there are many people who’ve never met
- There are people attending who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, ages or professions
- People are coming together from different levels or status groups within your organisation or network
- People (including the facilitator) need to get to know eachother quickly before working towards a common goal
- There are misunderstandings or mixed messages about the reasons why you’re coming together
- People are returning from a break and need to get the blood flowing
- There’s an awkward silence that needs to be filled – especially in a room full of strangers
- Set the tone of the meeting ahead: whether that be fun, creative, strategic, forward-thinking or reflective.
Need some inspiration? Check out our eight favourite ice breakers here.