What are really good ice breaker activities?
Assuming that you don’t want to lead exercises that are crap or give people hives when they hear the word icebreaker or team building. You’re in the right place. In this video, I’m going to share 3 of my absolute favorite icebreaker activities and 3 strategies to help you make sure that meaningful connection without all the awkwardness happens in your group. I’m chad and I get to do this for a living. I’ve written a couple books and created a couple card decks that help people skip past the small talk break the ice in a meaningful non-cheesy way that feels authentic and people won’t groan at.
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Right off the bat, one of my favorite activities that uses zero props is called highlights, lowlights, and insights. You could probably pause the video and guess a little bit about how that activity looks. But one of the most meaningful things that you can do I believe in the context of an icebreaker is create a conversation that really matters and adds some structure to it but not so much that it over plans the event.
You know, I think sometimes we think icebreakers we have to like run around blindfolded and make animal sounds or something. And I think that sometimes those are actually ice creators. I’m a really big fan of using things that create shielded discussion and a conversation that feels more organic and natural rather than really forced. As some connection before content which by the way is a phrase I like a lot better than the word icebreaker.
Highlights,lowlights, and insights is really beautiful Here is why:
When you invite people to share highlights, it brings out joy. Starting off with something like a highlight which is really non-threatening infuses joy, raises people’s endorphins and mood. The rest of the conversation, the rest of the day, whatever you’re doing the rest of the meeting, elevates people a little bit.
Now, lowlights, the value of sharing low lights which typically doesn’t feel like a very ice breaker kind of topic is that it paints the shadow. You know, in any really good painting, an artist will tell you that you have to know how to paint the shadow. If you don’t paint the dark side to things, a painting looks very flat. It doesn’t look like it’s supposed to. By inviting people to share lowlights, it creates the choice for authenticity and vulnerability to show up. Now, it doesn’t force people to share something that’s really, really deep. They could share the lowlight was their dog peed on the rug. Not very personal, not very vulnerable but it still satisfies that category. Then perhaps the most important one is insights.
When you invite people to share insights, you’re actually fostering a culture of learning and that is immensely valuable because most icebreakers forget to connect to the purpose of why you’re actually in the meeting. If you invite people to share a personal highlight a personal lowlight, and an insight related to the purpose of your meeting, you can connect people to each other and to the purpose all in one conversation.
Now, mechanically the way that I would do this there are lots of variations. You could have people just popcorn out really quick some highlights, lowlights, or insights. If you’re short on time and you could do that for literally 2 or 3 minutes in the beginning of a meeting or you could split people up into small groups of 3 and you could do this virtually over Zoom or in person. Split people up into small groups and invite them to share all 3. Highlight, a lowlight, and an insight with each other. I would invite groups to be no bigger than 3 to 5 people. You know, really good ice breakers are non-threatening. When you have the group go around and share things all at once, that is threatening. That is not a good icebreaker.
Breaking people down into smaller pairs where the risk is higher, it feels like there’s less judgment. It doesn’t feel like they’re public speaking. It feels like they’re just able to connect and share and be themselves. The other way that you could do this is in 3 rounds. You could break people out, have them share a highlight. Bring them back add a layer so you could say, “Okay, as we go into sharing lowlights, really just pay attention to your listening and really listen for something new that you haven’t learned about this person in the second round.” Boom, go back. You have that lowlights around, you come back, add another framing and split back into insights. That could be really intentional.Those last 2 suggestions could take anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes. Facilitator 101, always end the party while it’s still fun. Don’t let these conversations draw on beyond their time, right? Don’t make this a 45 minute connection exercise. Keep it brief so that it’s fun, fast-paced, people are sharing highlights, lowlights, and insights.
As we get into icebreaker and strategy number 2, I want to point out a book from a very good friend, Mark Collard called Serious Fun. Serious Fun is my bible for creating really engaging programs. And I say that because there’s so many ideas in there that help me ensure that whatever ice breaker activity I’m doing, it’s really, really meaningful and intentional and on point. One of the things he talks about in the book is this idea that a really good icebreaker should be non-threatening.
This is really important because for some people the word icebreaker is threatening. For introverts, they’re like, “Oh, I roll like… Not again. Don’t make me do this.” One of my facilitator that I really look up to named Jennifer Stansfield who lives in New England talks about this idea of shielded discussion. It’s the reason that I actually created this deck of cards called We! Connect Cards to create that shield. Basically, shield the discussion the idea is providing people a structure or an actual thing to be able to talk to so that it’s not just them offering everything, right? For example, if I put this card in your hand and said, “What is the best, worst or funniest job you’ve ever had?” You would share your answer to that question because the card made you share the answer to your question.
My second favorite ice breaker exercise is does use… (disclaimer) does use We! Connect Cards. However, I think information should be free. The box you can get and there’s a link below. But there’s also a link below to weand.me/free to download a free digital version of this deck of cards. If you’re not looking to pay but you really want all the icebreaker questions, go ahead and download that and you can feel free to print them. Use them digitally, however you want to. But the exercise is very simply a question swap. You can do it virtually or in person. But everybody gets a card or chooses a question and then you break people off into pairs and invite them to answer that question. I would answer “What is your best, worst or funniest job?” And you might answer “What’s an interesting skill that you have?” And then we would swap cards and go pair up with a new person. Even toss your hand in there signaling that you’re looking for a new person.
Now, virtually, I would do this in rounds.I might do this in small groups and have everybody choose a question, break people out have them answer that question, bring them back, randomize breakouts again and then bring them back. That question swap really, really great because it allows people especially in person to be free-flowing and it creates that shielded discussion. One thing to know about the We! Connect Cards both the digital version and the actual physical deck is that the cards and the questions are color-coded. Purple questions encourage some level of self-reflection. Green questions are fun and light and blue questions are a little bit deeper. And that is really important because it offers your group choice in the types of conversations they have.
I think the worst icebreakers are the ones where people have no choice. The ones that say, “Okay, go around the room and share blah, blah, blah, blah.” Because all you’re doing when you’re in that icebreaker is thinking about yourself. When the person next to you is going you’re just thinking, “Okay, what am I going to say? What am I going to say? What am I going to say?”
Strategy and activity number 3 is utilizes We! Engage Cards. Same deal for the deck. You can go to weand.me/free and download a free version of digital version of this deck. Or you can pick up an actual physical version of the cards via the link below as well. And this deck is really cool. It’s got quotes on one side and images on the other.
As I talk through this, I’ll just share with you a handful of quotes and images. But the idea here is that it creates the ultimate shielded discussion. There’s a number of ways that you can use this deck. For example, one of my favorite exercises is to lay the deck out on a table or send the group the link to the digital deck and lay them up image side up and just say, “Choose an image that represents a unique strength that you bring to this group or this team.” Then split them out into breakouts and have them share that image and why they chose it. They might choose this image because they really love writing and they’re an amazing content writer. They’re really glad to be a part of this team because they know how to write. If you need something written, you can help, right? You see how that shielded discussion? That person probably wouldn’t have been felt comfortable saying I’m an awesome writer unless it was for this card that invited them to do that.
That third strategy is really simply use imagery and quotes in your icebreakers to create that shielded discussion. The same thing I could say, “Choose a quote that represents an idea that you want to make come alive today. Choose a quote that represents something you really believe in.” Etc. Any prompt. Really the activity is to choose a card that represents blank. A future you want to create, a unique thing that represents you, etc. Choose a card that represents blank. It’s a phenomenal icebreaker. It is very comfortable for introverts and extroverts to be able to share and use that imagery. It’s also way more memorable because when we share things about ourselves that are paired with visuals, our brains are actually more likely to remember that than if we just do something that’s purely language and numbers. Because language goes into our brain and then hops out after 10 to 13 seconds. Whereas if you’re meeting especially with a group over time and they’re like, “Oh, yeah. Like you chose the image of the salad bowl because blah, blah, blah.” They might remember why you chose the image but not exactly what you shared. I hope that’s really useful.
Highlights, lowlights, insights, using We! Connect Cards and questions as well as quotes and imagery to spark really meaningful discussions. Grab your free downloadable decks. Information should be free is my belief. And my business and practice helping some of the top universities and companies around the world make connection easy is built on the premise of creating and facilitating those experiences.
If you want to know more about the virtual connection labs or workshops that I lead with teams to help make conversation and connection really easy, reach out below.