You can use the Pick-a-Partner ice breaker to warm up a group and enable participants at a meal to get to know each other quickly. While the ice breaker can be used to start off a day’s session, it is most effective when participants break for lunch.
Several variations of the basic ice breaker are suggested so that you can add variety on different days of your meetings and match the ice breaker to the needs of your training, meeting, or team-building group.
The main purpose of an ice breaker is to help you help your group achieve its goals, no matter what the goals are. However, most groups include team building, getting to know each other better, forming friendships, or learning to work with each others’ differences among the goals for a session.
The purpose of this ice breaker is to help session attendees know and appreciate each other. Additionally, this ice breaker, depending upon the variation used, can help participants develop social skills and appreciate drawing out the strengths and skills of another person.
Pick-a-Partner Meeting Icebreaker
This meeting ice breaker is best used when employees are gathering to share a meal. You can adapt the ice breaker to help participants meet and greet at the beginning of the session, too. However, one of my favorite session beginning ice breakers is the Speed Meeting Ice Breaker because participants meet numerous attendees quickly and move around the room.
Basic Meeting Ice Breaker
Ask your participants to number off by “one” and “two.” Your objective is to pair participants who don’t know each other well. Their goal is to learn something about their partner. I suggest you use a list of pre-developed discussion points or questions to encourage conversation beyond, “So, what do you do?”
Pre-developed discussion points also encourage quieter participants to talk, more talkative participants to share the stage, and they fill moments of silence when participants would otherwise stress out thinking about what to bring up next.
Here are useful discussion points, but consider developing your own based on your knowledge of the needs and interests of the group. Notice that the discussion points start out with an easy point to enable participants to succeed quickly.
Allow participants 5-10 minutes for the exchange. Establish the expectation that the pairs will sit together at the meal with other program participants, usually at tables of around 8 people.
Suggested discussion points include:
- Describe where you work, your job, and how you came to work for the company.
- Name your favorite color and how you surround yourself with or include that color in your life.
- Name a book or movie that meant something important to you. Describe what it meant to you and why.
- Describe your ideal vacation and whether you have made it happen in your life.
- Share one goal, personal or work-related, that you want to accomplish this year.
When the time is up, ask your pairs to proceed together to join others at the lunch table or buffet bar or other meal arrangements offered. Make sure you broaden the conversation across pairs during the meal.
Pick-a Partner Ice Breaker Variation
You can ask people to introduce themselves at their assigned or chosen table (your choice, but do use name cards that are visible if seats are assigned) Or use a seating assignment chart at a table by the door, so participants can quickly locate their table. (Assigned seating depends on the needs, interests, and goals of your group.)
- After brief greetings are exchanged, tell participants that their responsibility is not to continue to introduce themselves to the group, but rather, to do everything in their power to help the group get to know the person sitting to their right. Participants will use verbal discussion points, questions, and conversational re-directs to make this happen. Examples include the participant:
--asks the partner to tell the group what he or she got out of the morning’s session.
--redirects a question to the partner, saying, “What do you think about this issue, George?”
--draws out the partner with a prompting comment, “Tell us about your favorite part of your job.”
--in response to a conversation at the table, asks the partner if he or she has an interest in or opinion about the discussion point.
You may find that even your quiet and reserved attendees participate wholeheartedly because they are not the center of attention. It is easier for some participants to direct the attention of the group to another participant.
On the other hand, some of your outgoing participants may struggle with not being the center of attention. They may struggle with throwing the conversational ball to their partner.
Debriefing the Pick-a-Partner Ice Breaker Variations
As with most meet and greet ice breakers, for an exercise debriefing, I recommend that you ask the group to share any thoughts, insights, or observations they may have as a result of participating in the process.
Their responses to that question will prompt whether and what additional questions you ask the group. Additional debriefing questions may include:
- What else did you notice as you participated in this exercise?
- What would you do differently if you were to participate in the exercise again?
- How would you change the exercise to improve its effectiveness?
Keep in mind that people like to eat hot food and this meet and greet participation occurs while people are eating. Minimally, save the debriefing, if you hold one until most participants have finished dessert and after-meal beverages.