Earlier this week, as I was traveling to the east coast, I was texting back and forth with my wife about icebreaking activities. She had to do an icebreaker for a meeting and it needed to be connected to the content on which she would later present (yes, our text exchanges are extremely romantic!!).
I asked about the content she was presenting. Her meeting was going to focus on working across departments, which would represent a major culture shift.
I suggested that she open by asking everyone to write a Haiku. It would be a fun, creative way for everyone to introduce themselves and during the debrief she could talk about how Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry, thus bringing in an element from a different culture. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that for this activity, we trampled a bit on the cultural significance of Haiku poetry.
Yes, this activity technically produces a poem that will be 3 lines in length, the first and last lines with 5 syllables and the middle line with 7 syllables. The rules have been followed. But Haiku poetry is more than just about following the rules. When we start to bring in elements from someone else’s culture, we need to be careful and respectful, not just for the letter of the law but also for the spirit.
I suggested wrapping up the icebreaker with this debrief question: How can this activity serve as a metaphor for some of the ways we are going to cross boundaries and cultures in the work we’re about to take on?
A good debrief can transform an icebreaking activity from a fun, get-to-know you type of experience to a powerful entry into the rest of your session’s content.
Here are four other icebreaking activities that could connect to some common presentation topics:
- Budgeting. Here I’d suggest using the Coin Flip icebreaker. In this icebreaker, everyone stands and you ask them to put their hands on their head if they think the coin you’re about to flip will land on heads, or they can put their hands on their rear ends if they think the coin will land on tails. Flip a coin. Those who guessed correctly remain standing for another round (they can change their mind about heads or tails before the next flip). Everyone else needs to sit. Continue to do this until there is only one participant standing. If this activity is used to kick off a session on budgeting, the debrief could revolve around the fact that budgets are simply best guesses of how the financial health of a program, initiative or company will progress over a specific period of time. Like in the icebreaker, with a budget you must make a best guess. If you’re wrong, it could cost you money… but not making any guesses or decisions isn’t an option.
- Employee Reviews. To kick off an employee review training session with managers, perhaps you could begin the session with a Pop Quiz! icebreaker (and you could even use Kahoot in order to allow everyone to participant and keep track of the score). Questions in the pop quiz could revolve around do’s and don’ts for your employee review process. As you debrief this icebreaking activity, it would be easy to point out that in order for employee reviews to be effective, you need to have the right answer (specific facts) every time. Just like in a round of Kahoot you are not awarded points for an incorrect answer, a good effort with incorrect information will not win you any points during an employee review, either.
- Active Listening. I recently kicked off a session on active listening skills with the Name Tag Switch activity. In this activity you have participants find a partner and then have them introduce themselves using about four “get-to-know-you” questions (what’s your name, how long have you worked at your current job, what do you hope to take away from this session, etc). After a minute or so of these introductions in pairs, bring the attention back to the large group and instruct everyone to switch name tags and find a new partner. When they’ve found a new partner let them know they need to introduce themselves as if they were assuming the identify of the person whose name tag they’re wearing. After a minute have people switch name tags and find a new partner one more time, then bring everyone together in a large group and have them introduce themselves using the identity of the final name tag they’re wearing. People often struggle to come up with the correct information. This activity can easily be tied back to listening. The first step to listening is the ability (or willingness) to pay attention to the person who’s speaking.
- New Employee Orientation. One activity that was introduced to me last year was called Lyrics. The activity involves putting each word of the refrain from a popular song (maybe the national anthem) or a poem onto a different note card. Shuffle the cards and give one to each participant (but don’t tell them that these words make up the lyrics to a song… the challenge is for them to make sense out of the words and figure out what order they should go in). Challenge participants to put the lyrics in order (and then sing the song once they’ve assembled all the words in the correct order). There are a lot of parallels to draw between this activity and a new employee orientation session, beginning with the fact that, like in this activity, you’re going to see a lot of stuff happening in the organization that may not make sense right now. It’s a big jumble of activity. Give it time and put in some effort to see how the pieces fit together.
These are five icebreaking activities and I’ve demonstrated how they could be connected to specific training topics, but they can obviously be used for many other topics as well. The key to any effective icebreaker is to make sure there’s an opportunity to connect it to the content at hand.
If you have a go-to icebreaking activity that you connect to your content, I’d love to read about it in the comment section!