An icebreaker is an activity or game designed to welcome attendees and warm up the conversation among participants in a meeting, training class, team building session, or other activity. Any event that requires people to comfortably interact with each other and a facilitator is an opportunity to use an icebreaker.
Learn more about icebreakers and their purpose.
What Is an Icebreaker?
Icebreakers play a significant role in events in which communication and participant comfort level are important factors. They help to ensure that all attendees are equal participants and they fully engage participants when you want them to own the outcomes of the meeting or session. These activities break down the barriers that exist in a workplace through its hierarchy, organization chart, job titles, and various departmental entities.
Icebreakers are helpful especially when participants don't know each other. But they can also work very well for warming up the room even for employees who are already familiar with each other. An icebreaker can get people talking, generate laughter, and help participants start with an initial level of comfort, especially if they work in different departments or at different levels in the organization.
An effective icebreaker will warm up the conversation in your training class or meeting, reinforce the topic of the session, and ensure that participants enjoy their interaction and are engaged in the session.
How Does an Icebreaker Work?
When participants don’t know each other, an icebreaker will help them introduce themselves to the other participants. It's the most effective tool to begin to engage attendees and encourage their participation in a meeting, training, or team building session. A well-selected icebreaker makes people comfortable enough to speak up.
When meeting participants do know each other or are participating in a regularly scheduled meeting, an icebreaker is still effective to warm up the conversation and make people more comfortable engaging in the meeting.
For example, one classic icebreaker is called Two Truths and a Lie. To play this game, ask each participant to give three statements about themselves. Two of them must be true, and one must be a lie. The other participants must then guess which statement of the three is the lie. This icebreaker helps break tension among the group by helping group members learn facts about each other and form deeper bonds.
Types of Icebreakers
There are all sorts of icebreakers you can use for these purposes, but they generally fall under three main categories.
Icebreakers for Conversations
The first type of icebreaker is just for fun. When participants know each other, the laughter and conversation generated by the icebreaker will warm up the group. If the participants are strangers, they learn something about each other and feel more ready to engage in conversation.
Use these initial conversations to help ensure that participants enjoy and find value in the session.
Here are some examples of fun, conversation-starting icebreakers:
- Ask fun and funny questions
- Facilitate speed meeting introductions
- Share your favorites
- Name 5 (of anything)
- Find 10 things in common
- Mix up members with numbered plates
Icebreakers as a Segue Into the Meeting
The second type of icebreaker introduces or segues into the topic of the training session or meeting. It might also generate laughter and conversation, but its clear purpose is to open up the topic of the session. For example, to introduce a session on team building, you might ask the group to identify the characteristics of their best team experience.
Here are additional formats that you can use for segue icebreakers:
- Answer unusual questions
- Identify 10 favorites
- Take a (literal) stand
- Select one word
- Ask team-building questions
Icebreakers as an Activity Based on the Reason for Meeting
The third type of icebreaker is an activity based on the purpose of the session. Participants engage in an activity to explore and improve their work or working relationships or to solve problems and identify new pursuits.
Consider a Human Resources department that wants to find out why it took three or four months to replace an employee who resigned—timing that did not meet the needs of their organization.
The icebreaker activity encompassed a full meeting session during which they flow-charted their entire hiring process as it existed at that moment. Since this was an immediate activity that everyone in the department could participate in, it served as its own icebreaker.
You can also use an icebreaker when you want to evaluate a recent company event.
Let's say a team met to debrief an annual employee team-building event. Instead of using a random icebreaker, their icebreaker was a brainstorming session about the event.
They identified what went well about the event and what went poorly. Since every member of the team attended and had opinions, this exercise functioned as their icebreaker.
- Icebreakers warm up the conversation among the participants in a training group or meeting.
- Icebreakers can help improve the efficiency of training or meetings by strengthening bonds between participants and reducing tension.
- Icebreakers may stand alone, or they may serve as a segue into the meeting or activity. The best icebreakers reinforce the reason for the group coming together.