Get meetings going with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.
James Manktelow: Hello. I'm James Manktelow, CEO of MindTools.com, home to hundreds of free career-building tools and resources.
Amy Carlson: And I'm Amy Carlson from Mind Tools. Whenever a group of strangers gets together to achieve something specific, the first few moments can be rather awkward. People don't know what's expected of them, and they often feel self-conscious and unwilling to join in. You can easily guard against this by running an ice breaker at the start of the session. Ice breakers help people get to know each other better and buy into the purpose of the gathering, leading to a more productive event.
JM: Like all of the other parts of the event, the ice breaker needs to be planned. The type of ice breaker you use will depend on who's taking part. They may be like-minded people from different parts of your organisation, or they may represent many different backgrounds, cultures and outlooks. As you design your ice breaker, focus on the similarities between the participants, not the differences.
AC: Even though it's just a warm-up session, your ice breaker will have its own objectives. These might be to establish a productive working environment, or to create a level playing field, so that everyone contributes to the event. Make a list of your objectives and ask yourself how you'll achieve each one. For example, how will you create a common sense of purpose?
JM: When you've considered your objectives, you'll be in a good position to choose the right ice breaker for your group. There are several formats you can use – like the "little known fact" ice breaker, for introductions.
Have the participants introduce themselves with the usual information – their names and their roles – but ask them to also include one little known fact about themselves. This little known fact becomes a humanizing element, which can help break down differences in grade and status.
AC: If your main objective is to build a team dynamic for the session ahead, you can use props to break the ice. One effective ice breaker is the "human web." The facilitator passes a ball of yarn to one of the participants, keeping hold of one end. That person introduces him or herself, then passes the ball to another person in the group, describing how he or she relates – or expects to relate – to that other person. This process continues until everyone is introduced. The facilitator will then pull on the yarn and everyone's hands should move, demonstrating how all the participants are linked together.