10 situations when ice breaker activities are useful

Ice breaker activities can be extraordinarily beneficial.

They can also be unfortunately misused. Here at BreakNice, we’ve made it our mission to ensure that businesses of all sizes make the most of the precious time spent in team collaboration.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to understanding how the right ice breaker activity used in the right situation can be instrumental in making your teams’ time together as meaningful as possible.

Ice breakers…what in the world are they?

Ice breakers are activities or exercises run during workshops, meetings, brainstorming sessions or just about any other group meeting.

They are designed – and named subsequently – to “break the ice” so that you and your team can then dive beneath the surface and explore the depths of whatever topic you’re discussing, problem you’re solving or objective you’re tackling.

They’re useful for a whole range of purposes, such as:

  • Making people feel comfortable.
  • Getting meetings off the right foot.
  • Creating a positive vibe.
  • Ensuring people are engaged.

When do you use ice breakers?

Typically, at the start of a session. If you want to create a strong sense of team camaraderie, stimulate some good interaction and warm up the room, it makes sense to do it at the start.

However, this is not always the case. But more on that in just a moment.

Who are ice breakers for?

Honestly? Everyone!

Fun ice breaker activities are used in all manner of contexts — from schools to youth camps and corporate team building days to community sports clubs.

The best ice breaker games, questions and activities can be aimed at the particular audience in question and can be immensely effective in a variety of contexts. If you want to know more about how ice breakers can positively affect and energize adults, see the Breaking The Ice study by D.T. Chlup and T.E. Collins.

Aren’t ice breakers a bit… cliche?

Bad ice breakers are certainly painful. Incorrectly used ice breakers are certainly ineffective.

Ice breakers used in the wrong situations are at best useless and at worst… negatively impactful.

That’s why we recommend:

  1. Thinking carefully about when you use ice breakers.
  2. Spending time considering the objectives of your chosen activity.
  3. Moving away from the same old team building exercises.

Aren’t they the same as team building exercises?

For a comprehensive breakdown of the difference between ice breaker activities and team building exercises, read our blog on the topic here.

In summary, the important difference you need to understand is:

  • Ice breakers are focused on building and establishing relationships, setting the scene and making participants feel comfortable.
  • Team building activities are focused on strengthening already existing bonds or boosting morale and engagement.

10 useful situations for ice breakers

1.      Learning new people’s names

Of course, bringing strangers together will benefit from an ice breaker introduction as it’s an opportunity to learn each other’s names. But sometimes you may find yourself in a scenario where people sort of know some people, or they know everyone by face but can’t put a face to a name.

Instead of going around the circle and everyone just sharing who they are – which will inevitably result in people forgetting names and feeling awkward for the rest of the session – why not incorporate a fun ice breaker that allows people to learn one another’s name?

There has been plenty of research about the effectiveness of games in helping people learn, especially when it comes to names.

2.     Integrating different teams or organizations

Ice breaker activities can serve as an effective and engaging way to bring two independent groups of individuals together.

Often different groups – whether they’re from different departments or totally different businesses – coming together for a shared event have different ways of communicating and operating, or even just have different cultures.

Ice breakers present an opportunity for different teams to develop common ground, break any tension and connect on a personal level.

3.    Develop genuine rapport

Genuine rapport can be difficult to create. After all, you can’t simply manufacture authentic rapport. Fun meeting ice breakers present an opportunity for participants to get to know one another in a structured environment that doesn’t force anyone into an uncomfortable situation.

Try the “best rest” ice breaker. This wellbeing themed game engages the brain while encouraging discussion and sharing of wellbeing tools and techniques. Gather groups or departments and split into teams of 15 people (maximum).

Starting with a common sentence, each person adds an idea to the list, repeating all previous statements. The play continues until ever member has had a turn.

Select a sentence starter, good examples include:

“I rest by…”

“I get my heart rate up by…”

“I smile when…”

“I love the smell of…”

Ask each person to think of a word or statement to complete the sentence. Invite a volunteer to start, with the next person repeating the first person’s sentence and adding their own!

4.    Break through initial awkwardness

Ice breaker activities can achieve more than just developing baseline rapport. It can also help to overcome the initial awkwardness that many people feel in a group situation.

When you need a high level of participation or just want to loosen the natural hesitations that more introverted members feel in more public contexts, an ice breaker can serve as a fun, gentle and natural way to break through.

5.    Building gaps between different groups

Aside from department and organization, there can be a variety of other different characteristics separating attendees of your event or workshop. Cultural, demographic and other factors can all serve to create discrepancies in how individuals might approach the activities planned.

Considered and carefully chosen ice breaker games or questions can help to set the tone and ensure that the disparate segments of your group are able to bond over shared interests, experiences or traits. Consider What’s your aGender? Ice breaker. It’s all about thinking fast, then slowing down. Look at bias through a lens of speed in this two-part brainstorming activity. Teams compare common roles in society and explore the validity of their own thinking.

6.    Minimizing the effects of geographical distance

Did you know that even in a post-COVID world, 40% of businesses are still running workshops and training online? This relatively new trend has meant that more and more training is being conducted with participants working in different places, cities or even countries.

Webinars, video conferences and other virtual meetings are not going away any time soon.

Yet, despite our becoming accustomed to this new reality, there is still an undeniable degree of separation caused by having a screen in front of us. An ice breaker activity helps to not only connect the different remote attendees in an effective way but also works to emulate the natural dynamics of face-to-face events.

7.     Helping to understand cultural differences

Increased globalisation means increased interaction with diverse cultures and individuals from different backgrounds.

Often, even well-intentioned messages can be lost in translation (culturally as well as linguistically). Bringing your team together through an ice breaker can help to smooth over these cultural distances by helping everyone feel a little more comfortable and sensitive to the variety of participants.

8.    Pattern interruption

Using an ice breaker as a pattern interruption is a highly effective way of pressing pause and re-focusing a group.

In addition to adding something a little more active and engaging during a session, it also allows individuals to reorient themselves properly and re-assign their focus to that which should be demanding their attention more.

9.    Break up cliques

Social dynamics play an important part in how workshops, training or meetings are run. In professional environments cliques can develop outside of a department or organization. Even status, expertise or friendship groups can cause issues or prevent optimal participation.

Ice breaker activities establish common ground and allow for better integration between different cliques. The best ice breaker games help to erode the barriers preventing such integration in subtle and fun ways.

10.  Help the facilitation of the event

So far, all of the situations we’ve listed here are focused on the participants of the workshop or event.

However, they can also be highly beneficial for the facilitator as well. Getting to know the different participants, their roles, skills and personalities can help to better enhance one’s ability to guide the process being undertaken.

Moreover, studies have shown that ice breaker activities can even lead to greater and more creative brainstorming.

Break the ice with BreakNice

Whether you’re not sure what sort of fun meeting ice breakers are most appropriate for your organization’s needs, or you just want to peruse the different games that professional organizations all over the globe are using, Break Nice is your ‘go to’ database for all things team building and ice breaker activities.

Find out more today.


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