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As noted previously, it's one thing to talk about ice breakers in theory and quite another to think of them in practice. For most meetings in a business setting in which participants are professionals, ice breakers that require actions not normally associated with day-to-day behaviors in the office generally make people uncomfortable. Successful ice breakers for these groups generally consist of clustering people around a round table, if you have access to any, and having them share memorable information with each other, finding innovative ways to get them to introduce themselves to each other, or having them collectively work on a problem where everyone has to contribute.
Below are some of the most successful ice breakers we known.
- Fact or Fiction: Have everyone at the table write down three surprising things about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is made up. Each person, in turn, reads their list and then the rest of the group votes on which "fact" they feel is the "false" one. If the table does not correctly pick a person's made up "fact", then that person wins. A table can have more than one winner. If you have more than one table full of people, have a competition between the tables and have each table decide which of their "winners" they want to use to compete in the "finals". The selected finalists get up and present their "facts" to the whole group and each table, but the one the winner is from, has one vote to decide which of the "facts" is false. At the end, the whole group votes on which of the "winners" of the final round, had the most deceiving "fact". This helps people get to know and remember their colleagues.
- Same/Different: Divide the group into teams of 3 or 4 and give them a large sheet of paper and give each person a different colored marker. Have each person draw a large oval such that each oval overlaps with the other ovals in the center of the piece of paper. Give the group, or groups if there is more than one cluster, a theme that pertains to the meeting objectives. Tell people they have to write down at least five or more entries in the non-overlapping and mutually overlapping areas of their ovals. Give them five minutes, no more than that, to talk about their similarities and differences and write them in their ovals. If there is more than one group, compare results and identify common themes in both parts of the diagram and what light these similarities and differences shed on the purpose of the meeting. This helps team members develop an understanding of shared objectives and understand in a non-confrontational way how their views differ from others on the team.
- Brainstorm!: Break the group into teams of four or five. Give them a topic. Pick one that is fun and simple like, "What would you take on a trip to the jungle?" or "List things that are blue"). Give your teams 2 minutes, no more, and tell them "This is a contest and the team with the most items on their list wins." Tell the teams to write down as many things as they can and not to discuss anything, just list things. At the end of time, the team with the most items on their list wins! This helps people to share ideas without fearing what other people will think.
- Free Association: The object of this ice breaker is to have small groups or the team generate as many words or phrases as they can that are related to a particular topic that relates to the objective of your meeting. Give the group(s) a key word you want them to associate and then give them 2 minutes to list, as quickly as possible, as many words or thoughts that pop into their heads. For example, if your company is trying to decide on whether to reduce travel and increase the use of teleconferencing, you might use the word "teleconferencing" and have people list as many words/phrases as they can that they associate with the word. For example they might say: "saves money", "saves time", "impersonal", "need to see other people", "get distracted", "sound quality"…. This reveals what people are thinking, similarities in viewpoints, and possible problem areas/topics that need addressing or discussion.
- Nametags: Prepare nametags for each person and put them in a box. As people walk into the room, each person picks a nametag (not their own). When everyone is present, participants are told to find the person whose nametag they drew and introduce themselves and say a few interesting things about them. When everyone has their own nametag, they introduce the person whose nametag they were initially given. This helps people get to know and remember each other.
- Desert Island: Group people in teams of 5 or 6 and tell them they will be marooned on a desert island and give them 30 seconds to list all the things they think they want to take and each person has to contribute at least 3 things. At the end of the time, tell the teams they can only take three things. Have the person who suggested each item tell why they suggested it and defend why it should be chosen. This helps the team learn about how each of them thinks, get to know each other's values, and how they solve problems.