Help people "break the ice."
Whenever a group of strangers get together to do something important, 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.
This is where ice breakers are useful. These can help people get to know one another better and buy into the purpose of their collaboration, so they're more productive.
The type of ice breaker you use depends on who's taking part. They may be like-minded people from various departments within your organization, or they may be at different stages in their careers, with contrasting backgrounds and experience. As you design your ice breaker, focus on the similarities shared by the participants – not their differences.
The ice breaker warms people up for the work they've gathered together to do, and it has its own objectives. These might be to establish a productive working environment, or they might be to break down boundaries of seniority or status 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? When you've done this, you'll be in a good position to choose the right ice breaker for your group.
There are several types of activity you can use. A popular one is the "little known fact" ice breaker. Ask participants to introduce themselves with the usual information – their names and their roles – but to also include one little-known fact about themselves. This becomes a humanizing element, which can help break down differences in grade and status.
If your main objective is to build a team dynamic for the session ahead, consider using an activity than involves props, such as the "ball challenge web" ice breaker. This requires everyone to wear name badges if they don't already know each other. You then arrange the group in a circle and ask each person to say his or her name. They must then announce the name of the person who they are going to throw the ball to. When everyone has thrown it at least once, challenge them to pass the ball around all group members as quickly as possible. Time how long it takes, then ask them to beat their previous time. As the challenge progresses, people will get know each other and they'll learn how to work effectively as a team.
There are many more examples of ice breakers that you can use to get the most from your team events. To find out more about these, see the article that accompanies this video.