Meetings and gatherings can be initially filled with awkwardness, perhaps even tension, between their participants for one reason or another. These can also be characterized by boredom here and there because, well, listening to seemingly interminable discussions can do that to anybody.
Fortunately, both tension and boredom during gatherings can be resolved by a quick icebreaker game, usually at the start and in the middle of these events. Icebreaker games are designed to get the participants to relax, join in the fun, and share their fun and funny side so they have the opportunity to establish camaraderie in and out of the office. Emphasis must be made that strong personal relationships aids in stress management that, in turn, strengthens cooperation and coordination between people.
To paraphrase Theresa Merrill, a Muse career coach, people have the tendency to gravitate toward people who share the same or similar values, interests, and aspirations – or to use a popular saying, birds of a feather flock together. For this reason, icebreakers are effective tools in encouraging people to approach and talk to each other, even share more small details about themselves. In a way, icebreaker games set the stage for people gaining a better understanding of each other, an important factor in creating a more inclusive environment.
But don’t just introduce icebreakers for the sake of doing so. For one thing, be sure to make the purpose of icebreakers clear to the participants, particularly the rules of the game – and keep the rules as simple as possible, too, since nobody wants to play complicated games during a meeting. For another thing, remind the participants that the icebreakers are for fun only, not a competition in any way.
And remember that the icebreaker should be chosen based on the participants’ shared interests and to the specific situation. Thus, a quarterly meeting of the board of directors should ideally have different icebreakers than new employees’ orientation. The icebreakers suggested here are then categorized based on the participants’ energy levels, the number of people, and the type of people in the meeting.
Physical Energy Among the Participants
You should be able to gauge the participants’ energy levels. People are usually more energetic at the start of the meeting with their energy levels decreasing as the day progresses.
If the participants are energetic and excited, the best icebreakers are:
- Charades, a variation of the classic family game adapted for the office. Have each participant think of an animal, let him or her describe it through movements, gestures, and positions only – no sound whatsoever – and everybody else makes a guess. Switch up the game by using movies, hobbies, or food, and perhaps give a small token for every correct answer; make it funny, too, like a lollipop.
- Scavenger hunt, a game where people have to find objects based on clues. The game may or may not be themed for as long as it can get the people out of their seats and around the place. Tip: Use it for new employees so they can learn about the office layout, the people, and the corporate culture.
In the middle of a meeting, the participants have lower energy levels so these icebreakers can aid them in recharging their mind and body.
- Mini meditation will give the participants the opportunity to get in touch with themselves and calm themselves down before the madness, sort of, starts again. Let them sit down on their chars in a relaxed position – or on the floor, if there’s space – and allow them between two and five minutes to meditate. Teach them, if necessary, about deep breathing before the session starts. Afterward, let each one of the participants share a goal for the day, whether a personal or professional one.
- The personal best game is a good activity for participants to share their accomplishments, whether in their personal or professional life, so there’s a better understanding of who and what they are in and out of the office. The accomplishments don’t have to be their own either – it can be their children or families, which can be a source of pride and inspiration, too. The participants can be given 30 seconds or so to state the accomplishment they are most proud of; keeping the time is important since it’s an icebreaker, not the entire meeting.
You may also break the mold when people have low energy levels. You can, for example, make the participants perform 5-minute stretching exercises and then calm them down with mini-meditation.
Number of Participants
The number of people in a meeting should be considered in choosing an icebreaker activity for many reasons. First, it influences the amount of time the icebreaker should take – in a small group, each person can take up more time in sharing about himself or herself. Second, it also depends on the level of familiarity between the participants – in a large group, not everybody will be familiar with the others.
For a large meeting involving two or more departments, these icebreakers will likely release the tension and break the boredom.
- Speed dating will allow the participants to know the others, even if it’s only their names and departments. Pair everybody with somebody they are unfamiliar with; random pairings are great, too. Then let them face each other, have them ask two to three questions about each other, and then let them move on to the next. (You may have to arrange the tables and chairs in a row for this game)
- Things in common is a game that can emphasize the similarities between the people in the room and, thus, create a stronger camaraderie. Set a timer for, say, 10, minutes, ask the participants about three things that everybody has in common, and write these things on a blackboard; don’t include the fact that everybody works in the same company obviously.
For smaller gatherings, these icebreakers can make the gathering more fun and productive while also giving the participants a respite from the intense agenda.
- Recognize your workmate, a game where each participant shares a positive thing about the person on their right. The positive thing can be a trait, an accomplishment, or a deed that the person did for others for as long as it’s something good. The positivity will recharge everybody, not to mention that it’s a great way to let everybody know that they are appreciated.
- Share your favorites, a game where the participants share their favorite things, be it a photo, an Internet meme, or food. Give each participant a minute for their show-and-tell game.
These games are actually designed to give people the opportunity to know each other beyond their work so their feeling of belongingness can also be strengthened.
Types of Participants
As a moderator of icebreakers, you have to be able to determine the personalities of the participants and their mood as well as decide on the type of environment you want for the meeting. The icebreakers, for instance, for artistic people will likely be different for people in management positions or for behind-the-scenes people.
Here are a few suggestions that can get the ball rolling.
For creative participants, hands-on activities are the best way to go because, well, artistic people like to create things from their hands.
- Drawing challenge will get their creative juices flowing while also putting them in a more relaxed mindset. Assign each participant with just a single part of a whole drawing, such as an entire human body. Give each participant a blank sheet of paper and colored pencils and allow them to draw the part they have been assigned with (e.g., just the right foot for Person A and the left foot for Person B) in whatever style they choose. Then pass the papers to others, let each one add their respective part to the existing drawing, and let them have at it. The result may be messy but it can be fun and funny!
- Creating a building with marshmallow and dry spaghetti should be fun for people who like to build extraordinary things out of ordinary objects. The objective of the game is to build the tallest structure from these two objects with the tallest structure being the winner; set a timer for, say, 5 minutes to build it and 1 minute to let it stand on its own.
For funny people, these games will challenge their funny bone.
- Share a joke, a game where everybody can tell a joke and the funniest one gets a small price.
- No laughing game where everybody can tell his or her best joke but nobody should laugh no matter how funny it is. As an alternative, the funniest person in the group can tell jokes for 2-3 minutes and everybody else should keep a straight face. If somebody laughs, the game is over and he or she can be “punished” by the others; being asked to dance to a silly tune is a good idea.
For a fairly shy group, the tell-a-joke games aren’t suitable but these are!
- Describe in a word, a game where people can describe themselves or others, even the office, in a single word. The one-word answers won’t put people on the spot or make them feel under the spotlight but it will encourage them to warm up a little.
- A bowl of questions game will also not put shy people on the spot since there’s no pressure on them to perform. The questions can be pleasant and non-invasive, too, such as the last great movie they watched, the thing they are most grateful to, and their best childhood memory.
You can find many more icebreakers on the Internet but these 14 games are a great start.
Also, check out ‘How to Start a Conversation At a Social Event‘ article.