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The Art of the Ice Breaker

ice breakersWhat is an Ice Breaker?

When new groups of people come together with the objective of achieving the same aim, it’s essential they feel comfortable as soon as possible. In meetings, team building events or training sessions, it’s common to have quite a short time available to achieve the objectives. When people are new to each other, or the facilitator, it can be difficult for them to communicate effectively straight away. This means that it can take some time before the group begins to work at its optimum level.

Ice Breakers are used as a shortcut to familiarise group members with each other, the facilitator and the group’s shared objectives. They also help the group to engage with their purpose and can be a memorable way to get an event off to a good start. A group event with a good start is more likely to conclude with a successful outcome.

It’s essential that Ice Breaker exercises are designed and delivered well. Whereas a good Ice Breaker can smooth the way for a great outcome, a bad one can be a disaster. Poorly designed, irrelevant, inappropriate or awkward Ice Breakers can be, at best, a waste of time. In the worst examples, they can be embarrassing for everyone involved and detrimental to the event’s outcome.

When to Use an Ice Breaker

Using an Ice Breaker at the start of an event should be considered when:

  • Delegates don’t know each other or the facilitator.
  • Delegates need to bond quickly to achieve the event objectives within the given timescale.
  • The topic involved is unfamiliar to the group.
  • Delegates are from different departments or grades/levels in the organisation.

Ice Breaker Design

The key to designing a successful Ice Breaker is to analyse each group of delegates and the challenges they may face when working with each other and the event topic. This information can then be used to design an Ice Breaker that fits the group’s unique needs.

The Ice

Firstly, you need to identify what ‘the ice’ is that needs to be broken. Examples of ‘ice’ could be:

  • Delegates don’t know each other.
  • Delegates are from different cultures or backgrounds and may have preconceived ideas about each other.
  • Delegates may feel they have a status in the group which is pre-defined by their existing status in the organisation.

Ice Breaker Objective

Once you’ve identified the ‘ice’, it’s then possible to write your Ice Breaker’s objective. For example, if you identify that delegates don’t know each other and also have different statuses within your organisation, your Ice Breaker’s objective might be:

โ€œTo enable delegates to bond with each other and create a level playing field that will facilitate good participation from everyone involved, irrespective of their current job role in the organisation.โ€

The Exercise

You can now design your exercise. As you consider scenarios, ask yourself how they will help you to meet your Ice Breaker’s objective. Also, bear in mind that the best Ice Breaker exercises are relevant to the topic of the event and underline the key aspects involved.

It’s always a good idea to introduce an element of fun, or light competition if possible. At the very least, delegates should possess new information about their colleagues at the conclusion of the exercise.

Keep in mind the following questions:

  • Is this exercise relevant to the topic?
  • Is this exercise appropriate for this group? For example, an Ice Breaker that would work well at a high-energy sales meeting isn’t necessarily going to work well at a more subdued meeting for home carers.
  • How is it likely that each delegate will react to the exercise?
  • Will the delegates feel comfortable?
  • How does this create a common sense of purpose?

When considering the length of the Ice Breaker session, ideally aim to use not more than 10% of the entire time available.

Remember, everyone has a different comfort level with what they share about themselves and how they act in front of colleagues. With this in mind, beware of using any exercises that involve the following:

  • Physical contact.
  • Having to act out silly scenarios or make unusual noises.
  • Throwing or catching anything.
  • Waiting in a long line to speak โ€“ this is a sure way to increase delegates’ anxiety levels!

Examples of Ice Breaker Exercises

A simple Ice Breaker exercise that often works well is to split the group into pairs. Allow the pairs time to learn about each other and then ask each delegate to introduce his/her partner to the rest of the group.

Another simple yet effective Ice Breaker involves asking delegates to do their own introduction but include a ‘little known fact’ about themselves. This ‘little known fact’ can help delegates to bond and see beyond their own preconceptions.

Another idea is to split a large group into smaller groups and provide them with a problem to solve. Within the smaller group, the delegates must discuss the problem, come up with a solution and then present that solution to the group as a whole.

These are very simple ideas. Within the context of your organisation and the objective of your event, you can customise these examples and add your own relevant slant.

Have you got an Ice Breaker that never fails to get people working together quickly and effectively? Illumine would love to hear about it…

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