The 3 Benefits of Using Ice Breakers
July 24, 2018
We open our monthly all-staff meetings with an ice breaker. For this week’s ice breaker, we were divided into two teams and asked to find five things in common. While my team’s responses were not all that creative: we all work at Drexel, flown in an airplane, been in a car accident, born in a hospital, and we all have siblings, the most obvious benefit was a means get to know the people I work with on a daily basis a little bit better. I learned that one colleague never played an instrument, another has not traveled outside the US, while another loves daredevil activities, roller coasters, fast cars, etc.
However, while getting to know my colleagues a little bit better is a true benefit, there are three more overarching benefits to using ice breakers: community, interaction, and empathy.
Community is a group of individuals who share values or ideals or demographics. But community is not simply those individuals hanging out together in a room. Building community is a process, and the practice of using an ice breaker opens the door for the individuals to get to know one another, which opens the door to building community. For example, when I learn what I have in common with co-workers, I feel more aligned with them and I’m better able to listen, be supportive and collaborate to achieve results.
Interaction is a necessary component of community building as well, and the use of an ice breaker, by the nature of how ice breakers work, results in a interaction between co-workers. Even the few minutes an ice breaker might take, can illicit laughter, open dialogue, or stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and more importantly, it prevents a siloed work environment, which breeds disfunction.
Empathy is the ability to be able to see events or situations through some else’s perspective. To build a strong team, a team steeped in community, empathy is essential because it allows team members to step back, explore the other’s point of view, and then collaborate to make decisions, or at a minimum, make a decision while understanding the impact it will have on others. When empathy is lacking, teams cannot function effectively because, in the simpliest terms, they do not care. The ice breaker gives participants the opportunity to see their co-workers in a different light, which allows them to be more empathetic.
On the surface, ice breakers may seem like a waste of time, but I assure you ice breakers bring value to the table and are worth the few minutes it takes to talk about which book co-workers are reading, which historical figure co-workers would like to talk with, or where they would travel if they could disapparate. Ice breakers are a mainstream communications tool, but using them effectively is as important as using them.
The rule of threes continues to apply – we’ve already discussed the three benefits. There are also three rules and three types. While there are many different types of ice breakers, there are really three overarching types:
Interaction Ice Breakers
Interaction ice breakers are intended to be used to encourage participants to engage with one another. An example of an interactive ice breaker is one where participants might move about the room to a space in the room that best defines them. Warning: keep participants mobility in mind.
Sharing Ice Breakers
A sharing ice breaker is one in which the participants share information. Tell us which book you are reading, which deceased relative you would like to have a cup of coffee with, and where was the last place you traveled are all examples of sharing ice breakers. This is perfect for new teams or teams who have hired a number of new people.
Team Building Ice Breakers
Team building ice breakers are meant to facilitate a collaborative environment. Any short activity that requires the participants to break into teams to conduct the activity is a team building ice breaker. They are particularly beneficial to new teams, teams in which there has been dysfunction, or teams that have experienced significant leadership changes.
In order to be effective, when using an ice breaker, follow these three rules:
Have a Clear Objective
Before deciding whether or not to use an ice breaker or which ice breaker to use, it is important to understand what you want to achieve. For example, if half of your team is new, a sharing ice breaker will be most beneficial. If the team has not been working collaboratively, then a team builder might be most beneficial.
Keep it Simple
Ice breakers are not meant to take hours or be super complicated. The goal is not to have participants have to think too much or spend too much time evaluating the task at hand. The more simple the activity, the more effective it will be.
Ice breakers are usually most effective when completed at the beginning of a meeting, but ice breakers are not always appropriate. For example, if you plan to present a difficult topic, such as staff reductions, no raises, or change in a popular policy, doing an ice breaker will not be effective, in fact, the participants will feel betrayed – the exact opposite effect one wants to achieve.
Next time you have a team meeting, suggest using an ice breaker, this short 10-minute activity can pave the path toward a more functional team by fostering interaction, a sense of community, and empathy.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies