"Breaking the Ice" Without Falling in the Water

Good ice breakers not only get people to feel comfortable talking with one another they also get people familiar with what the meeting is all about and what it hopes to achieve. Ice breakers, if done right, reduce tension, fear, and discomfort. They get people more engaged, helping them contribute more effectively. A good ice breaker almost always leads to a more successful meeting.

You have to be careful though, not every meeting needs an ice breaker. And, if an ice breaker is not appropriately planned and tailored to its specific audience and goal, you can end up with an "ice breaker gone bad". This is a disaster. Bad ice breakers waste precious time and can embarrass you and meeting participants, intensifying the very thing you’re trying to overcome.

To avoid "bad icebreaking", design your "breaker" to focus on the goals of your event and on getting people to focus on and talk about their similarities, not their differences. Keep it simple and make sure what you have planned is something all participants will be comfortable with. Make sure that what you do creates a level playing field for sharing ideas, especially when you bring together people of different pay grades and/or status.

After you have designed your ice breaker, reflect on it and review it carefully. Ask yourself how you think each person will react and if they will feel comfortable. If you feel anyone might be uncomfortable, try another idea.

At a loss to know what to do or just don't have that "party planner" mentality? Anyone can come up with a great and appropriate icebreaker.

How? There is no end to ideas on the Internet for ice breakers that will suit whatever group you need to get interacting. Just type in "meeting+icebreakers" on any Internet search engine and a host of sites with many great (and not so great – so keep in mind your audience and meeting objectives) will come up.

Testing the Ice: The Importance of Getting People Talking

Having an active conversation where everyone weighs in is crucial to having a good meeting or brainstorming session, solving a problem, or just getting things done. This generally isn't too hard when participants have to talk with people they already know and are already comfortable talking to. It's something else again to get a good give-and-take going when you need to get people who are strangers together or who generally don't talk shop with one another because of their different job status.

Fortunately people who regularly face this problem have come up with some clever ways to help overcome these hurdles and get everyone talking as equals. These are called "ice breakers". A good ice breaker should be fun, but not take up a lot of time. And, most importantly, it should be specifically targeted at the "ice" you need to break.

"Ice" can come from any number of sources. It may be people at the same relative level and mindset that just haven't met each other yet. It may be because you have people of different cultures, backgrounds, or view points. It may be that you're mixing people from different pay grades and levels of responsibility or that have different perceptions about each other.

To have a successful ice breaker, look at the "ice" and then look at the goal of your meeting. Now assess what part of the ice you need to break in order to maximize the results of what has to get done. Focus the ice breaker on that. You can't, and shouldn't try to overcome every possible obstacle or type of "ice" that might exist between participants, just the one most likely to hamper you meeting from achieving its objectives.

We'll talk about effective ice breakers next.

Strategic Communications: Tools – No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

If you have never seen or put together a communications plan before, the uncertainty of not knowing what it should contain, how it should look, and what other people might be expecting to see can be paralyzing. As a result, a lot people stop after the exercise of identifying who should be on the list and what those people need to know, never actually completing an actual full blown plan. Because communication is so important to business and/or project success, don’t let this happen to you!

For almost anything in business or government, and that goes for communication plans too, there are books, tools, examples, freeware, and professional software packages for just about anything you want to do. The Internet has all kinds of sample communication plans that come with extensive descriptions of what they need to contain and what they look like that you can copy and download for free.

To find one of these, just use any major Internet search engine and type in: "project management, communications plan" and a host of sites will appear. Many of these have forms you can copy or download and use right away. Even if you have never written or even seen a communications plan before, within minutes you can be filling out a professional looking and organized communications plan.

Strategic Communications: Who Needs To Know What When Part II

When you forget or omit an important communications link and have a breakdown in communication, problems occur; and sometimes they are so big they take an entire project down; and everyone loses.

So how can you stop this from happening? Well, nothing can ever be completely avoided, but you can minimize the possibility of a major communications breakdown by generating a communications plan spreadsheet that lists all of the tasks and associated deliverables and who is responsible for them.

Your spreadsheet should also include who is to receive whatever product that task produces, whether that be an invoice generated by your accounting department, a status report for your upper management or a regulatory agency, a software tool to automate a piece of equipment in your company’s chemical plant, or a highway overpass for your customer.

In addition, your document should indicate who needs to approve the deliverable and how frequently along the way that person needs to be kept informed on its progress. Such a matrix of tasks, people, and frequencies of communication helps keep you focused and keeps you from forgetting who has to know what when and prevents you from tiring out your key people by spamming them unnecessarily.

Strategic communication will be your key to success!

Strategic Communications: The Key to Project and Business Success

How many times have you or your team been involved in a project, no matter what the size, and had someone come out of the blue or get some unexpected bad news at the last minute which puts your project, all your hard work, and careful planning in jeopardy?

Chances are you forgot to put a key person in the information loop. This person could be as big as the CEO of the company or as seemingly insignificant as the kid in the mail room.

Unwittingly leaving a key person in the dark is a classic and chronic problem faced by all managers and project teams. One way to overcome this problem is to leave nothing to chance and develop a communications plan……and put it in writing! But don't just do this in a vacuum because one person is never able to think of all the people that might need to be put in the loop.

A good communications plan is a team effort. Different people know different parts of a project or problem. It never fails that each person on the team will come up with different contacts that they know who have critical information that you will need. Sometimes these people can help you or can come out of left field and kill your efforts for one reason or another. It is important to keep these contacts in the communications loop and use their collective knowledge for your project's success.

Putting together the master list and prioritizing the people on it is the next step. We'll talk about that in our next blog post.

Coffee Talk: Work less, get more done, and feel better

Let’s face it; sometimes the office stifles creativity. I’m talking about the feeling where you’ve sat in your leather chair for too long and it starts to feel hot and your eyes start hurting from looking at the screen and the office drone is giving you a headache.

The best thing to do is leave the office. At our office, we practice this technique by getting coffee in the afternoon. It’s a valuable time that we use to discuss creative or strategic projects. It gives us a breath of fresh air which in-turn gets our thoughts flowing. Sometimes we only have 15 minutes and other times it lasts an hour. But regardless, we make a point of leaving the office.

You should do this too. And if you don’t have the time for coffee, then leave the office during lunch. Don’t think about eating at your desk or skipping lunch… make a point of getting out and smelling the roses. If you’ve go 15 minutes, take your MP3 player and go for a walk around your building.

If you do this, you’ll work less, get more done, and feel physically (and mentally) healthier.

Are you drifting, surfing, drowning or sailing?

Roy H. Williams quoted Mike Metzger from the Clapham Institute as saying:

 “You meet 4 kinds of people on the ocean of life:

Those who drift just go with the flow. The wind and the waves control their speed and direction. The drifter quietly floats along and says, ‘Whatever.’

Those who surf are always riding a wave, the next big thing. They stay excited until the wave fades away, then they scan the horizon for something new. Surfers don't usually get anywhere, but they make a lot of noise and put on a good show."

Those who drown seem to stay in the center of a storm. It doesn't matter how often you rescue them, they'll soon be in another crisis, crying, ‘Help me, save me, it's been the worst week of my life. I don't know what I'm going to do.’

Those who sail are navigating toward a fixed point. They counteract the wind and waves by adjusting the rudder and shifting the sails to stay on course. But without an immovable, fixed point in your life, there can be no sailing. There's nothing for you but drift, surf or drown.”

Are you drifting, surfing, drowning or sailing? What is your immovable object?