The following icebreakers are very simple, but effective, ways to get the conversation going with a small group.
However, and this is essential to remember, none of these icebreakers will replace considerate and active listening on your part.
Recent research has found that when a leader is a good listener, teams show more improvement - so make sure you always have your ears open!
At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like they’re being understood and that what they’re saying is being heard.
For all the icebreakers listed below, we recommend no more than 10 participants. The idea is to keep the group size small, so that trust can flourish.
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.
The aim of these icebreakers is to start a conversation where you have that opportunity to do just that.
1) Who am I?
Duration: 10 to 20 minutes
Materials: Some paper and a pen
At the very top of our list is ‘Who am I?”.
You’ll probably recognise this game from family parties or social gatherings, but we think it works really well when used with work teams… and it’ll have less drama than when playing it with your family!
We find this ice breaker works particularly well with younger age groups - they tend to be more bothered about famous people than the older generation!
- Write down the names of various well-known people onto the pieces of paper (or use sticky notes).
- Top tip: Make sure that the individuals or characters you choose are actually known to everyone. For example, if your new hires are all millennials, then it’s unlikely they’ll be aware of the life and deeds of old-timey Hollywood star Burt Lancaster. Examples of good people to use include: Beyonce, Bill Gates, Lionel Messi - or even a roguer choice, like Donald Trump.
- Stick one piece of paper onto the foreheads of each of your team members.
- You can then get your team members to mingle around the room and see if they can figure out who they are by speaking to others.
- Or, you can take a more structured approach where your team members have to ask the rest of the group a number of ice breaker questions to try and figure out who they are.
2) Word Chains
Duration: 5 to 10 minutes
This icebreaker is one of our favourites to be used on small groups because it is highly adaptable.
We also love this icebreaker because it tests everyone's memory.
This makes it a great team building game to use at the start of a meeting or training session as research has actually found that when memory games are used, the amount of information learnt increases.
- Get your team sat in a circle.
- Decide on a category. For example, domestic pets, types of cars, fruits, football teams, colours or clothing items.
- Go around the circle, starting with yourself. The first player (i.e., you) lists a word that fits into the category (e.g., if the category was domestic pets, they would say “cat”).
- The next player then says the first players word and adds their own word (e.g., cats, dogs).
- This continues until every player in the circle has said their own unique word related to the category (e.g., the last team member would say “cat, dog, fish, hamster, horse, gerbil and rabbit”).
3) 1000 Blank White Cards
Duration: 30 to 60 minutes
Materials: 10 blank cards per person and a pen each
We love this icebreaker because it's unique, funny and it involves a lot of creativity and thinking outside the box.
We recommend using this icebreaker at the beginning of a meeting, or training session, to get everyone pumped up and ready for the session ahead.
Or, because the icebreaker is quite long and perhaps a tad complicated, it is also well suited to just being used as a bit of fun outside of meetings or training sessions.
- Hand each player 10 blank index cards.
- Each player should then write interesting rules on each of the cards, so that they can be played in the game.
- These rules are things such as: speak like a pirate for one turn, do 10 jumping jacks before you take a turn, or they can even have things written on them such as how points are scored or when the game ends.
- Shuffle all the cards that were created together, along with 10 additional blank cards and deal out five cards to each player.
- On player one's turn, they draw a card from the deck, and then play a card from their hand (place the card in the middle of the table).
- They then follow the rule on the card (e.g., speak like a pirate). If a blank card is drawn, it can be written on and played at anytime.
- It is then player two’s go. They do the exact same thing - then player three goes, and so on and so forth.
- Play continues until there are no cards left in the deck, or until a card has determined the end of the game.
4) Interview Game
Duration: 15 to 25 minutes
Materials: Pen and paper to make notes on
This icebreaker is an excellent way to spark conversations in quieter groups.
It's also great to use when there isn’t a lot of space to move around, which is why we like it so much.
- Get your team split up into pairs.
- The pairs then decide between themselves who will be the interviewer and who will be the subject - everyone will eventually play both roles, so it doesn’t really matter who goes first.
- Each pair has three minutes - the interviewer must find out three interesting facts about the subject.
- After three minutes, bring all the pairs together and get one interviewer at a time to explain what interesting facts they discovered about their subject.
- Get everyone to jot the notes down, so that it’ll spark conversation at a later date.
- Once everyone has shared their facts, switch the roles around.
5) Four Corners
Duration: 15 minutes
Materials: Pen & paper
This icebreaker, which is also known as four squares, is a great way to break the ice in small groups because it requires people to talk about themselves.
And let's face it, we all like talking about ourselves really.
The icebreaker requires a bit of imagination and creativity, and that's why we love it!
- Give everyone a piece of paper and a pen.
- Everyone divides their sheet into four boxes.
- In each square, everyone should describe themself in the form of a drawing.
- Choose the four topics in advance, e.g., top left is hobbies, bottom left is vacation etc.
- After 5 to ten minutes, get everyone together to explain what they’ve drawn and how it is unique.
6) Fabulous Flags
Duration: 15 to 20 minutes
Materials: Several sheets of paper, pens (coloured)
We all feel more connected once we know what people value and like.
In short, we love this ice breaker because it gives people a chance to show what represents them and what is important to them.
- Give each participant a sheet of paper, pens and coloured pencils.
- Tell team members to draw out a flag that symbolises them - highlight that they should draw things that they find enjoyable and important (e.g., a guitar if they are musical, the outline of their favourite country).
- After 15 minutes, get people up to the front to share what they’ve drawn and what it means to them.
7) Helium Stick
Duration: 5 to 10 minutes
Materials: Long and light-weight pole
This is one of our favourite icebreakers for small groups because it’s active and stimulating.
It's guaranteed to get everyone laughing and feeling like they are bonding together - after all, they do say that laughter is the greatest medicine!
- Get your team members to stand in two equal lines, facing each other.
- Each person needs to place a hand in front of them with their index finger pointed out.
- Place a pole on top of all the index fingers to that it is resting evenly.
- Get everyone to lower the pole to the ground without anyone losing touch with it at any stage (make sure you’re carefully watching to spot any cheats!).
Duration: 30 to 45 minutes
This icebreaker is a little harder to get your head around, but once you’ve got the hang of it, we know you’ll love it as much as us.
It's our personal favourite because it's complicated and gets everyone using their brain!
- Pick one person to be a ‘adjudicator’, and they must leave the room.
- Chose a topic, for example: food, card, countries.
- One by one, each team member tells the adjudicator one word from the category - the adjudicator must write each word down in order.
- The adjudicator then comes back into the room and reads the list of words out. They must only read this list out once.
- The other team members must try and memorise all the words in the list.
- Starting with any player, they call out the name of one person and the word they think they told the adjudicator.
- If they get it wrong, the game continues to the next player.
- If they get it right, the persons who word they guessed moves next to them and they become the King of the Empire and they can guess again to someone else until they get it wrong and the next player has a god at guessing.
- The winner is the person who has the biggest empire
Duration: 15 to 30 minutes
Materials: Piece of paper per participant and a big piece of paper
This icebreaker is a way to get everyone to know each other, whilst taking the pressure off.
We also love it because it requires splitting your team up into two competitive teams - and hey, a bit of friendly competition is good for us all every now and then!
- Divide your group into two teams.
- Get every team member to write the name of a well-known person they would like to be on a note card (e.g., Madonna).
- Collect the notecards (one team at a team) and write the names on a big piece of paper for everyone to see.
- The teams have to decide which person would’ve chosen to be which well-known person.
- The winning team is the one who correctly guess the most - give them a little prize!
10) The Tangled Chain
Duration: 10 minutes
Last but not least, this icebreaker is one of our favourites for small groups of adults because it involves your team getting up, getting involved and getting active.
Due to the personal contact involved in this icebreaker, we suggest only using it on small teams who are fairly well acquainted.
- Get everyone to huddle in a group in the middle of the room and hold hands with someone across the circle (make sure everyone washes their hands!).
- Everyone much then untangle themselves (to make the game more fun, ensure that there are some complicated hand holds going on).
We hope you like these ice breaker activity ideas for a small group. If you need activities for a more general context then check out this list of our best ice breaker games.