I’ll admit, I cringe a little bit when I hear the word icebreaker, because I imagine being asked to share my most embarrassing secret with a room full of strangers or passing a Cheerio on a toothpick dangerously close to a co-worker's mouth. I am sure many of you share my feelings. In fact, I’ve never actually run into a person who enjoys an icebreaker. Even so, they’re a great way to begin engaging the group you’re working with, especially if many of the individuals don’t know each other. And depending on what icebreaker you choose, it can get people into the right mindset for brainstorming and working together.
So, to make your next meeting a bit less cringe-worthy, here are 10 suggestions for easy, fun, and relatively painless icebreakers.
1. Who did it? As each attendee enters the room, hand him or her a small slip of paper and a pen. Ask everyone to write down the craziest thing they’ve ever participated in (either within or outside of government). Place all of the answers into a hat. Ask three people at a time to pull out a slip of paper, read it aloud, and guess who did each thing.
2. Two truths and a lie. Go around the room and ask each person to state two true facts about themselves (or their team/division/agency) and one lie. Ask the individual to the speaker’s left to guess which item is false.
3. Going on a picnic. This is a game that requires attention and concentration. The first person in the group starts by stating “We’re going on a picnic and I’m bringing applesauce.” The next person in the group must then come up with an item to bring that starts with the last letter of the item just stated. For example, “We’re going on a picnic and I’m bringing eggplant,” and so on. Anyone who repeats a word that has already been used is out. To increase the difficulty of the game, give the group a specific letter to use (i.e. everything must start with the letter “a”) or word patterns (i.e. everything must have two vowels or consonants together) or make everyone state their own item and the item the person listed before them (i.e. applesauce and crackers and mustard).
4. Tower building. Provide attendee teams of three materials for building a tower. Give each group five minutes to brainstorm the best method for building a free-standing tower that can withstand a “gust of wind” (i.e. small fan or breath blown by the facilitator) and three minutes to build. The group with the highest, strongest tower wins.
5. You’re unique. Go around the room and ask each person to share one unique fact about themselves that makes them stand out from the group (i.e. “I biked across America” or “I have eight brothers”).
6. Who’s carrying what? Prior to the meeting, come up with a list of items that attendees might have with them at the meeting (and some that they might be less likely to have) and items that can be found in the room. Split the group into teams and provide a list to each team. The group that can find all of the items fastest wins.
7. Most deprived. Get a large bag of chocolate candies, pretzels, or another small, edible item. Give each attendee an equal amount of the item. Working around the group, ask each person to state one thing about themselves that they have never done, but everyone else likely has (i.e. “I’m the most deprived because I’ve never eaten at Taco Bell"). Anyone in the room who has done that thing must “pay” that individual one of their candies/pretzels/etc.
8. House fire. Tell the group that their house is on fire, but everyone is safe. Ask each person to name three things they would run back in if they had 30 seconds.
9. Office fire. Conversely, tell the group that the office is on fire, but everyone is safe. Ask what three items they’d grab if given 30 seconds.
10. One minute orator. Choose a category (for example, office supplies) and ask each person in the group to write a one word noun related to this category on a piece of paper. Place all pieces of paper in a hat. Call one person up and ask him or her to draw a paper out of the hat and give a one-minute speech on that item. Anyone who can speak the longest without pausing is the winner.