Why Most Ice-breakers Flop and What to Do About It

I recently attended an event where the organizer asked us all to line up facing one side of the room. She then walked behind us and taped a piece of paper to everyone’s back (I had to force myself to stand still and let her do it. I was the victim of “kick me” signs in high school – yes really). She then had us create two lines facing each other and explained that each of us had the name of a celebrity stuck to our back. We were allowed to ask the person in front of us one question to help us figure out who it was and then the line would rotate.

Since I grew up in a house without a TV, I don’t go to movies or read gossip news and the only thing I watch now is the NFL playoffs – I was not the most helpful person in the room. Fortunately it only took about five rotations for someone to “win” and we were all able to go back to talking like normal people. (For the record, when I pulled the name off my back and looked at it I had no idea who it was.)

The alleged purpose of icebreakers is to help people get to know each other and feel more comfortable in a group. The reality is they more often make people uncomfortable and teach them nothing about each other. No matter what activity is chosen, someone is going to be the odd-man-out and not be able to play. I know more than one person who hides in the bathroom during ice-breaker games and I have no idea how many of the physically challenging ones don’t end up in lawsuits.

Do people really need forced interaction to make them get to know each other? The only challenge I’ve seen is people who already know each other talk to each other to exclusion of everyone else. If you really feel that your gathering needs “something” make it about the individuals and something they can choose to do or not without it being awkward.

Here are a few I don’t mind:

  • Add “I’m really good at _______________” to the name tags
  • Ring a bell every 7-10 minutes to encourage people to change groups
  • Give a few people the role of “Professional Networker”. Their job is to make sure no one is left standing alone and to encourage cliques to break up (This requires a very gregarious personality and works best if people volunteer or are hired for the purpose.)
  • If you have a speaker or panel ask people to support each other’s success by sharing one thing they learned or found interesting during the presentation
  • In a small group (<20) make a list of all the reasons ice-breakers are uncomfortable or of the ice-breakers people have had to do in the past

It is my experience that ice-breakers are generally unnecessary. Do you have one that wasn’t too painful or that you’d be willing to do again? Please share it in the comments!

As always, I wish you the MOST from your potential!

Doc Robyn

PS - Any blog I write can be given in presentation or workshop format. If you're interested in a specific topic, give me a call or send me an email. I'd love to chat with you and make it happen!

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known motivational speaker, executive coach and corporate trainer. As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence by sharing active leadership, powerful teamwork, conscious communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time. To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, please call 302-307-3091 or email her at DocRobyn@ChampPerformance.com.

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