Chapter 6

Ice Breaker Activities For Work

We've put together the ultimate list of the 10 best ice breaker activities for work teams. Includes instructions.

Heather Harper

Written by Heather Harper

Last updated: Mar 30, 2020

In this chapter we go through the ten best ice breaker activities for the workplace.

Ice breaker activities can be used for any kind of work team, old or new. However, we think these ice breakers will be best suited to new recruits on their first day to help break those first day nerves.

Ideally, the icebreakers you use will have everyone leaving the room feeling energised, excited about work, and with a deeper understanding of the company or their job.

When picking what activities to use, be mindful of the fact that when you are using these on new hires, everyone is likely to be a complete stranger, so they will still be unsure of how to act around each other.

Remember that in these types of early on team interactions, most people probably won’t be comfortable with sharing intimate or personal details about themselves, or getting involved in activities that require a lot of physical contact with strangers. To overcome this, we suggest integrating the more intimate icebreakers at the end of a meeting; after everyone has gotten to know each other a bit better.


If your team is working remotely at the moment then you should check out our 7000 word guide on remote team building games and activities for virtual teams. In there you'll find 40 ideas with instructions that you can try with your newly remote team.


As any successful executive or business leader knows, one of the strongest indicators of an organisation’s success or failure are the friendships between its employees. With research showing time and time again that the number one thing that employees enjoy about their jobs are their coworkers.

With one study by Gallup finding that businesses that have highly engaged teams report a 21% greater profitability in comparison to competitors with average employee engagement rates, it is obvious to conclude that the simple, and perhaps most seemingly obvious, fact is that the more you enjoy the company of the people you work with, the more likely you’re going to enjoy working.

While you can’t force everyone to get along and instantly become friends, organisations can help their employees get to know each other better and make it easier to develop personal connections by making use of short and simple icebreaker games.

Here are some icebreakers you can use in the workplace that are specifically designed to get employees introduced to each other and to help everyone feel comfortable around each other.

Feel free to use any of these suggested ice breaker activities in your workplace:

1) Building challenges (paper tower, marshmallow challenge)

Objective: To get the employees to build a certain object within a time frame

Participants: 20 to 50

Duration: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: Items of your choice to turn into objects (e.g., paper, marshmallows, straws)

building challenges

This ice breaker game is one of the most popular and used games. They promote creativity, which empirical studies have found influences positive team outcomes; so this icebreaker will enhance the performance of your team.

Building challenges are also problem-solving focused, a skill that enhances team decision making, and thus the teams effectiveness.

Instructions

There are many variations of the building challenge ice breakers, but they all follow a pattern similar to this:

  1. Divide employees into small teams, we suggest no more than six per team.

  2. Decide on what you want them to build with the unconventional material (e.g., who can build the tallest free standing tower from paper, who can create the London eye from straws.

  • With this, decide if they are allowed any other materials. For example, in the paper tower challenge, you may want to allow the teams to use sellotape to stick the paper together. Whereas the marshmallow challenge involves giving each group some dried spaghetti, string, tape and a marshmallow and groups have to build the tallest structure possible with the marshmallow on top.
  1. Set a time limit, we suggest no longer than five minutes.

  2. After the five minutes is up, get the teams to step away from their creation and decide who’s is the best (based on appearance, hight, ability to stand on its own)

2) Human bingo

Objective: To get employees moving around the room and finding out traits about each other

Participants: 10 to 30

Duration: 35 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: Human Bingo Cards

human bingo

If you’ve done your reading, you’ll have noticed that human bingo appears numerous times on our blog posts as one of our all time favourite ice breakers.

We love it because it's fun, active and introduces new recruits to each other on a personal level, without being too intimate.

Instructions

  1. Give each participant a bingo card, either homemade or found on the internet, and a pen.

  2. Explain that the group has 30 minutes to mingle with each other. During this time, they should be introducing themselves to one and other and finding people who match the traits on the bingo card.

  3. Once they have found the person with the correct trait, they must put the person’s name in the corresponding box, or have the person sign the appropriate square.

  4. Just like a normal game of bingo, the clock continues to tick until the first person to fill five boxes across or down yells “Bingo”.

  • If you want the game to go on for a little longer, you could have multiple opportunities to win. For example, the first person to get a full horizontal line, the first to get a vertical line and then the first to get a full house. To involve employees even more in the game, perhaps ask them at the beginning what they think a completed game should be.
  1. To make the game more exciting and motivating, have a prize (or prizes, if playing the longer game) ready to give the winners. In our opinion, a bottle of nice wine will do but you could always offer gift vouchers.

3) Unusual pitches

Objective: To get each group to create a pitch and convince the rest of the team that it is worth funding

Participants: 10 to 15

Duration: 15 to 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: None

unusual pitches

We love this ice breaker because it is a clever way to get everyone into an innovative mindset, thinking outside the box and developing problem-solving skills.

Instructions

  1. Split everyone into small groups, we suggest no more than four or five per group.

  2. Give each group ten minutes to prepare a short pitch about something unusual (e.g., movie ideas, weird jobs, extravagant holidays).

  3. After preparing their speech, each group has to present their pitch to the rest of the teams and persuade them that their idea is worth funding.

  4. The winning idea can be picked by an audience vote. Or, you can be the decider.

4) Lucky penny

Objective: To get team members telling stories about themselves

Participants: 5 to 20

Duration: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: Some pennies (more pennies than participants) and a hat

lucky penny

Lucky penny is a great ice breaker game for new hires because it gets everyone actively participating and sharing something interesting about themselves, without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.

However, if you get the vibe that your team is shy, we suggest using the second variation of the game where you ask them to say historical facts.

This makes the game a bit more relaxed as the attention is taken away from the employees personal life.

Instructions

  1. Gather together some pennies and place them in a hat.

  2. Get everyone to reach into the hat, grab a penny and share something meaningful that happened to them on the year the coin was minted (this could perhaps be funny if you have a younger team - make sure the coins were minted whilst they were born!).

  3. Like previously mentioned, if your new team seems more timid, replace the personal stories with historical facts that happened in that year.

5) Jenga questions

Objective: To get the team playing a fun game of jenga, whilst answering questions

Participants: 5 to 10 people

Duration: 20 to 30 minutes

Difficulty: High

Materials: Jenga blocks and a pen to write on them

jenga questions

We like this game because it’s more exciting than just shoving a bunch of questions in a bowl and getting people to pick them out.

We personally feel that using the Jenga game gives the activity an interesting twist which makes it far more engaging.

This icebreaker is simple, yet effective and promotes a relaxed mindset so get everyone sharing anecdotes about themselves.

Instructions

  1. Write on each Jenga block a different question which employees will have to answer as they play through the game. For example, “what are your goals for this year?”, “where were you born?”, “what do you like most about this job?”.

  2. The rules after this follow as a typical game of Jenga (we hope you know how to play!). Get each participant to pull out a jenga block, without the tower falling down. Then they pull out the block, they must answer the question written on it.

6) Fun Questions

Objective: **To get everyone asking fun questions to each other **

Participants: 10 to 15

Duration: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: None

fun questions

Asking fun questions is an easy and effective way to break the ice, regardless of the situation.

Asking questions develops strong levels of trust and intimacy amongst teams, especially when the questions are downright silly.

This means that coworkers can learn a bit more about each other and start conversations that wouldn’t normally happen in the workplace.

Instructions

To be honest, the instructions are very simple.

Everyone sits in a circle and asks a silly question to the person to their left. The person on the left must answer the question and then ask a new question to the person to their left.

If your group is smaller, get everyone to answer everyone's question instead of going round the circle.

Top tip: We understand that it can be difficult to achieve this if you’re working in a remote team or if people find talking to each other in-person to be difficult. The great news is that there is a very easy way to overcome this particular challenge. Using something like Quizbreaker you can create a fun weekly quiz that’s delivered to every team member via email.

This takes away much of the pressure that’s typically involved with running ice breaker games in person and is a fantastic way to bring everyone together regardless of where they’re located in the world.

Furthermore, research has actually found that employees will feel more comfortable and achieve more clarity when they don’t ask questions face-to-face.

7) Baby photos

Objective: To get employees to guess which baby photo is of who

Participants: 10 to 30

Duration: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: Everyone should bring in a baby photo

baby photos

This is one of our favourite ten ice breaker games because it gets laughs and gets employees to feel closer to each other. Super super simple, and super super fun! It does take some preparation from your team though!

Instructions

  1. Get everyone to bring in a baby photo of themselves, or get them to email you a copy.

  2. Set the baby pictures out on a large table, or wall (so everyone can clearly see them).

  3. The aim is that everyone must guess which baby photo is who.

  4. The winner is the person with the most correct answers - give them a prize, we suggest something edible!

8) Pay It Forward

Objective: Everyone writes three positive attributes about a coworker, which highlights personal strengths and value

Participants: 5 to 50 people

Duration: 5 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: A piece of paper and pen per team member

pay it forward

Everyone loves feeling like they are appreciated and supported.

In fact, research has found that employees perform better when they feel valued by their employer and perceive higher organisational support.

So based on this scientific evidence, we can’t recommend highly enough using this icebreaker!

We feel that this ice breaker works best at the end of a meeting, as it ensures that everyone leaves on a positive note with a sense of accomplishment.

Overall, this activity encourages team members to practice gratitude, highlight personal strengths and makes people feel recognised and valued!

Instructions

  1. Get everyone to sit in a circle.

  2. Everyone must look at the person to their right and write three positive attributes about them. This can be simple things, like their attitude around the office, or how they help others out.

  3. Personally, we feel this icebreaker is more effective when the answers are not read allowed. Simply get everyone to give the listed attributes to the person they wrote them about to finish the meeting on a high!

9) Sharing Expectations

Objective: To understand what everyone expects from the team and the organisation

Participants: Up to 10 people

Duration: 10 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: A whiteboard and pen

sharing expectations

In all honesty, the most straightforward way to kick off any meeting with a new team is to ask them what their expectations are.

If you know from day dot what people expect from you, what they hope to gain and how they want to do it, you can help them work towards these goals.

This ice breaker activity builds relationships between you and your team, helps you achieve goals and makes your team feel valued.

Instructions

The instructions are simple, ask your team members what they expect from you.

You can either get them to say it infront of everyone and then write it on a white board.

Or, you can get them to write it down anonymously and you can write up your favourite ones for everyone to see.

One final suggestion, is to do this in a one-to-one manner, where you pull everyone aside individually and ask them their expectations.

10) Bucket list

Objective: Get everyone to share with each other what is on their bucket list

Participants: 5 to 15 people

Duration: 10 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: None

bucket list

Despite sometimes feeling shy to begin with, we can all admit that we love talking about ourselves.

A simple way to get new recruits to talk about themselves is with this classic icebreaker.

It can give incredible insight into what your team's motivation and driving factors are.

Instructions

Again, the instructions are super simple.

Get each team member to express what five things are on their bucket list. Depending on their answer, this also gives you ample opportunity to provide value to them beyond your professional relationship.

For example, if you find out that one of your new client’s items on their bucket list is about travelling, then you can send them some information about a country they’re interested in visiting.

Conclusion

We hope you've liked our list of the best ice breaker activities for work.

Try these out and let me know how you go.

Is there one that we've missed that should definitely be in our top ice breaker games for work list?

Let me know in the comments below.

Heather Harper

About the author

Heather Harper has a Masters in Occupational Psychological from the University of Manchester. She currently works as an editorial writer specialising in organizational psychology - helping teams work better together.

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