Chapter 1

Introduction to Ice Breakers

Icebreaker games are a fun team building activity to improve team bonding in your small or large group. If you're looking for great icebreaker ideas for your team members then this is the ultimate guide for you. In this guide, I'm going to show you a range of icebreaker activities that will improve company culture and help people trust one another in a fun way within a small amount of time.

Humans, by our very nature, are social beings. We naturally have a desire to be a part of a larger community, to feel genuinely connected with others, and to forge authentic relationships with the people we spend time with. And yet, despite all of that, most of us find ourselves at a loss when it comes to being social.

This is when having the right ice breaker game comes in.

When used correctly, ice breaker games have the power to help participants to build a rapport with one another, increase workplace collaboration and productivity, and actively improve our ability to absorb and learn new skills.

However, there are hundreds of different ice-breaking activities out there that you can use and knowing the right one to use depends on the situation. As a manager or team leader, it’s vital that you understand the right and wrong ways you can break the ice around the workplace.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Why Break the Ice?

Ice breakers in the wild

Yes, I know, let’s address the elephant in the room first.

The term “ice breaker” has a tendency to prompt the rolling of eyes and half-hearted groans, especially when mentioned in the workplace. For many people, icebreakers in the workplace are at best viewed as being annoying and awkward, and at worst as a nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing event. And no, when we say ice breaker games we are not talking about rock-paper-scissors.

The main reason behind this negative reputation is quite simple: most people have no idea how to properly run an ice breaker activity.

Ice breakers are meant to help people get more comfortable with each other by having everyone warm up and participate in the same activity. However, more often than not, you’ll find overly-enthusiastic individuals who are more concerned with forcing others outside of their comfort zones instead of creating a space that brings people together.

A poorly run icebreaker not only makes everyone feel awkward, but actively works against its intended goal of encouraging collaboration, communication, and sense of community.

On the other hand, a well-run icebreaker can be incredibly helpful for any organisation when used correctly.

The Powerful Benefits of Ice Breakers in the Workplace

On the surface, icebreakers are primarily used to dispel that initial bit of awkwardness that naturally happens when a group of people are together by giving everyone something to do. Which is why you’ll often find ice breaker games being used to help people who have never met before get to know each other better.

When you look past the surface though, you’ll find that icebreakers have the power to do so much more than merely warming up the conversation.

Encourages community and collaboration

According to a report by TinyPulse, the vast majority of workers feel detached with their coworkers, with only 24% of people reporting that they feel connected to their peers. Which in turn leads to employees feeling disengaged, being less productive, and more prone to work-related stress and burnout.

One of the most effective ways that organisations can combat this is by making use of ice breakers in the workplace. While it’s unlikely that they’ll become best friends overnight, ice breaker games open the door for people to get to know one another and start building that all-important sense of community within the workplace. Research has shown that even simple icebreakers that ask participants to talk about themselves were incredibly powerful in developing trust and likability amongst people, even if they only ever interact online.

Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that icebreakers that get everyone to participate in the same activity together drastically reduces the amount of time it would normally take for people to get comfortable collaborating with one another.

Sets the right tone and expectations

Whether you’re introducing a new hire to the company or leading an important meeting, icebreakers give people an idea of what to expect moving forward.

For example, if you’re running a meeting where you want everyone to actively participate and contribute new ideas, then you can help get everyone into the right mindset by using an ice breaker game that gives everyone a chance to speak their mind. Even if the activity itself has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the meeting, the right icebreaker can help reduce the anxiety that comes with speaking up and signals to everyone that all ideas are welcome.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to get people engaged and relaxed then look to bring the fun in your icebreaker. Games like building challenges and snowball fights are a dynamic way to provide an energy boost, get everyone involved and sends the message to not take yourself so seriously.

Improves learning and skill acquisition

One of the top reasons why you should use icebreakers in the workplace is that it has been proven, time and time again, that ice breakers consistently have a positive effect on our ability to learn new skills.

One study monitored the effects of icebreakers on learning by following the progress of a hundred students in learning a new language, with one group regularly participating in icebreaking activities such as playing simple games and even singing funny songs.

At the end of the study, it was discovered that the group that took part in icebreakers scored significantly higher in tests and were more confident and fluent in the new language. With the icebreakers being attributed to keeping students engaged in the learning material, encouraged creative thinking, and fostering collaborative learning.

What’s become increasingly clear is that it is by using icebreakers, team leaders and trainers are able to effectively create an atmosphere that actively encourages our ability to learn and absorb new information.

The Right Way to Break the Ice at Work

Before you dive into all the fun ice breaker games you can start using at work, let’s remember that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. I’m sure all of us have at least one negative experience of ice breakers in the workplace, so let’s first make sure that we know the correct way to break the ice at work.

Know your goal

As with most things, you won’t get very far unless you know exactly what is you’re aiming for. It’s easier to view each ice breaker activity as its own tool, and it’s important that you use the right tool for the job.

In the same way that you wouldn’t use a hammer to cut something, you wouldn’t want to devote an entire day of team building exercises if the goal is to make introductions and start a conversation.

When choosing the right icebreaker to use, think carefully about what exactly you’re looking to achieve and why this particular icebreaker will work best.

Consider everyone’s comfort level

The biggest mistake that people make when running icebreakers in the workplace is to disregard the comfort level of their participants. Making everyone feel a little awkward and even uncomfortable is fine, pushing someone to feel anxious to the point where they’re on the brink of a nervous breakdown is not.

Which is why it’s essential that team leaders and managers consider things like how familiar participants are with each other, what you’re asking people to reveal about themselves and the amount of social risk involved with your icebreaker.

Create a level playing field

Let’s keep in mind that the reason why icebreakers exist in the first place. Icebreakers were designed with the express purpose of helping break down the social barriers that prevent us from interacting with others.

This is doubly important in the workplace when you consider the variety of personal and professional barriers that are in place. Things like differences in seniority level, working in different departments, and even the layout of your office are natural obstacles to meaningful interaction.

When choosing what activity to use to break the ice, make sure that you’re making everyone as equal as possible regardless of who they are. If one person has to sing a silly song they’re going to feel singled out, but if everyone has to do it then everyone may be a little embarrassed but at least everyone is participating.