We all know how important personal interaction and tight bonds are in our lives. As much as this is true in family and friends circles, it is also crucial in work teams. Personal interaction is the foundation on which happiness and successful results are built. An in-depth study from TINYpulse, an employee engagement company, studied more than 40,000 workers’ inputs from more than 300 companies globally. They found a correlation of 0.92 between employee fulfilment and their relationships with colleagues. The correlation between their happiness and relationships to direct bosses was only 0.74. Since you can end up spending more time with coworkers than with your family or partner, it is a topic that deserves much attention.
To everyone, except the most eager & outgoing few, icebreakers are a necessary evil. They are supposed to dissolve awkwardness, but forced icebreaker games often make an event even more tense. It doesn’t have to be this way!
So how do you avoid creating a frustrating, patronizing game that won’t make participants feel like they are wasting their time and why should you try?
The benefits of icebreakers far outweigh any negatives. They can take care of introductions in a much more fun way than just simply going around the room and stating what’s on your business card. They can make people remember names easier & help start conversations. When done right, icebreakers can quickly build a sense of community, set the tone for the upcoming session & give participants ownership of the learning ahead. They are also a great way for people to share their expectations, and for facilitators to introduce the topic of the day through the game. It helps participants to loosen up, understand each other more and enable better collaboration and networking. Last, but not least, it is a surefire way to energise the group and have everyone focused and ready to go.
Below we’ve collected 45 ice breakers activities that will help you set the right tone for any occasion – from company retreat to conference workshop, from strategy session to new hire onboarding. These icebreakers don’t require people to reveal too much personal information too soon and allow room for introverts too. We’ve found them incredibly useful & would love to hear about your experiences if you give any of them a try. In order to help you find what you look for, we grouped them into the following categories:
- Ice breaker games to get to know each other
- Ice breaker games to kick off meetings
- Fun ice breaker games to support team building
- Ice breaker games to improve teamwork and collaboration
- Fun ice breaker games
Whenever you have a group of people participating in a meeting, project or event, they need to get to know each other to be comfortable in working together. This does not only mean just memorising names, but also involves getting the facilitator or leader of the session familiar with the group members.
This method is an adaptation of the well-known icebreaker ‘Two Truths And A Lie’ to create an activity that can be run throughout a day of meeting or workshop. Participants mingle and ask questions from each other while noting the answers on post-its. But everyone includes one lie. The result is that you have a board of interesting facts about each participants, among them, one lie. Throughout the workshop you can return to these boards for participants to introduce each other and find out what was the lie. This is an engaging technique to have an ongoing get-to-know exercise during a longer session.
This game help participants to get information on each other in a fun, competitive way. First, create a bingo card containing a grid of squares with a statement or question in each square that will apply to some members of your group and is in line with the objectives of your class, workshop, or event. After each player gets a bingo card, they mingle around introducing themselves and finding other participants who can sign their cards indicating that a statement applies to him/her. To avoid having people only talk to one or two people and filling up their card, limit the signatures they can give to 1 or 2 per card. When everyone has reached bingo or is super close, you can share something you’ve learned about each other, yourself and the experience of the game.
Do you have people who come from many different places to your session? A great way to get to know each other is to have participants place themselves on an imaginary map laid out in the room representing the country according to where they grew up. Ask them to share one internal value they got from that place, and why is that important for them. Encourage people to share a short story if they want. Sharing customs and values from your childhood can create more understanding and help form stronger bonds.
A simple and classic game. Each employee shares three statements about themselves – two true, and one false. Then, everyone tries to guess which is the lie by asking questions. Try to find out as many details about the statements as possible and watch the speaker’s reactions closely. The whole point is to learn facts about your peers while inserting an element of mystery.
This is one of the team icebreaker games that helps the team learn about each other and gives both introverts and extroverts an equal chance to reveal themselves and discover others’ assumptions.
Create groups of 4-5 people, and let them discover what they have in common, along with interesting characteristics that are unique to a person in the group. This icebreaker promotes unity as it gets people to realize that they have more common ground with their peers than they first might realize. As people become aware of their own unique characteristics, they can also help people feel empowered to offer the group something unique.
The goal of this icebreaker game is to help the participants to get to know each other at the beginning of an event or to help identify their values during the later part of a training session.
Create a 3 x 3 grid for each participant and have them fill in each block with a different personal passion randomly. After the individual work, have everyone walk around the room and compare notes. When they find the same passion listed in both grids, ask them to sign for each other in the appropriate square.The winner is the participant who manages to have other people’s signatures on three lines (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal). You can continue the game to have as many winners as you possibly can.
This game is a great way for players to introduce themselves and their colleagues. It’s especially fun for people who think they already know each other very well – almost every time there are at least a few surprises! Sometimes these new nuggets of wisdom can have an immediate effect on the employees’ relationships, current projects or challenges. Since you have to draw, rather than explain, it serves double duty for topics like problem-solving, creative thinking and innovation.
Jenga is the starting point of many fun gatherings. It’s a super easy game to explain and pick up & anyone can join any time. You can spice up a regular tower-toppling contest by writing intriguing questions on each block (or as many as you can). When you draw each block, read the question out loud & answer before placing the piece on the top of the tower. This can ignite exciting conversations about everyday topics like favourite downtime activities to more in depth stuff, like career and self development goals.
This is a quick game where players have to form an orderly line without any discussion, or any verbal cues or help at all. The line is formed by a predetermined criteria (like height, or color of each person’s eyes etc.). The tasks can get more complicated the more familiar the group is. This exercise helps develop team collaboration and non-verbal communication.
This fast paced icebreaker activity allows participants to get acquainted with each other in a meaningful way. Prepare about a quarter more quotes than the number of participants on individual slips of paper. Put the pile in the center of the room. Each participant picks up one quote, then picks a partner and begins to discuss what the quote says to them, if it is meaningful, and how. Then after a minute or so (very short) the facilitator gives a signal and participants switch partners, and may switch quotes as well if they’d like. This can continue for 4-5 rounds for around 15 minutes.
Have you ever? (Stand up if)
Prior to the workshop the facilitator prepares a list of questions which can only be answered with yes or no. These questions should begin with “Have you ever…?” or “Stand up if…”. The facilitator reads out the questions or statements one by one. For each statement the participants stand up if they could answer the statement with yes. The questions should be designed to not be discriminatory, intimidating or insulting. Possible topics can be countries visited, dishes, games or sports tried, movies seen etc.
The goal of this game is to have a succession of very rapid conversations in an extremely short amount of time with as many people as possible. Have people sit in pairs, with colleagues that they don’t directly work with on a day-to-day basis. Determine the time limit (say 3 minutes for each conversation) and set a timer. When it starts, each pair has to start speed networking & find out as much professional info about the other as possible. Each time the buzzer goes off, the pair has to split and find a new partner, again looking for people they know the least.
The key icebreaker is a team building favorite and a great exercise to get to know each other in a group or team. Ask the participants to sit in a circle and bring their keys with them. Explain that they will get to know each other through their keys. Ask them that one by one present all the keys they have on their keychain and tell a few sentences about the area the key represents – the city or neighbourhood they live in, the activity it represents (bike or locker key) or the person they received it from.
Usually the facilitator starts the circle so the participants get the feeling how it should be done.
Start by writing your funniest or weirdest story on a small piece of paper. It has to be a true one, no colouring! Then fold the paper up and drop it into a bowl or other container. The facilitator or the person leading the program randomly reads every story & the group has to guess who the writer is. This is a great way to get to know each other and find out new things, even if you’ve worked together for a long time.
Starting a meeting by defining your personality in a playful manner is a great starter if there are multiple new members to the group or if two or more departments come together on a new project.
This meeting starter from Gamestorming works great because it lets people self-define, gives them a “personality” outside the typical work environment. Additionally, it gives participants quick snapshots of multiple players (since they see many cards as they’re being passed around), and it creates memorable visuals that give people conversation pieces as the meeting progresses.
Prepare word pairs, like salt and pepper, milk and honey, sail and wind etc on separate pieces of paper. Tape one to each person’s back. People then have to walk around and ask closed questions (with a yes or no answer) to find out what their phrase is. Once they find out, they have to find their pair & by continuing to ask questions (these can be open or closed) they have to learn 3 new things about the other.
Use the exercise at, or very near, the start of a course, workshop or meeting where people don’t know each other to help get to know everyone’s names. Have the group sit in a circle where everyone can see the others. The first person says their name. The next person continues, but after saying their own name, they repeat the first person’s name. This continues with each person repeating one more name. Reassure people towards the end that it’s ok if they get stuck & encourage the others to jump in to help if anyone is lost.
This is the game that is most easily prepared – you only need one roll of toilet paper. Pass this around, and have everyone rip off how much they would usually use. Everyone will feel awkward & will not really see the point at the beginning & possibly think you’ve lost it. When everyone has taken off a few squares, they should count them. The amount they have is how many fun facts they should reveal about themselves. A warning though: this game is better suited for more lighthearted occasions.
For more established groups, where people are more familiar with each other, it’s always good to dedicate a day, or an afternoon for “show and tell”. Each team member gets the chance (not all at once of course) to showcase something – an object or a topic that they are interested in. This should be a mandatory occasion, a part of the group routine, with a Q&A section at the end. Everyone has something they dedicate a little bit more time and attention to, but you always hear about this from the more extroverted people. This habit gives less exhibitionist characters a chance to show this side. It is also a great practice to hone presentation skills and handle the attention & tricky questions. Providing a mentor to look through their presentation and help prepare their speech is also beneficial and can ease nerves.
Using icebreaker games at the start of a meeting is a great way to break monotony, motivate attendee and generally loosen people up. It energises everyone, helping them ‘arrive’ mentally and leave behind whatever task or thought they were previously working on. They can also help clarify the objectives of the meeting.
Pick a phrase that is central to the topic why you’ve gathered and have everyone write down or say a word that comes to their mind in relation to it. If you’re leading a meeting about planning an upcoming project, ask participants to share one word that they think describes the goal or the processes that are needed. Once everyone has shared their phrases, discuss the results. This game helps explore different viewpoints about a common challenge, before starting the meeting.
Each participants gets a set of few LEGO bricks (identical sets to everyone – a few items, around 5-10 bricks per person will suffice). Everyone builds something that relates to the topic of the meeting. Afterwards, everyone gets 30 seconds to explain what their building means (e.g ‘My Home’, ‘Interesting Experiment’, ‘The coolest computer ever’) and how it relates to the topic of the meeting. (Optional: the figures/buildings and the metaphors may be used later on to help discussions around the table)
An easy icebreaker that will have everyone feeling good before a meeting. Go around a circle and highlight a story – an action, decision or result – that can and should be praised from each team member. Something where they reached beyond their typical responsibilities and excelled. Have everyone acknowledge and thank each other for surpassing expectations. This is a great mood booster – by lifting each other up, the energy just starts to vibrate in the room. Everyone likes to be recognized.
Meetings can sometimes be totally useless because attendees come in stressed about the topic. The tension will not allow for solutions to surface & will not contribute to the time being spent productively.
You can reduce this tension by opening with a mindfulness exercise. Ask people to take a few moments to “check-in” with themselves and write down their worries. The reflection can be led by questions such as what energy level have they arrived with? What have they been doing that day so far / the previous day? What is on their mind that is unrelated to this meeting? Make sure they know that they don’t have to share their answers. After everyone is done, they should rip up their answers and discard them. This helps them arrive & identify their state, let go of their worries and have better focus & more empathy towards the others.
You can use this at the beginning of each meeting, it’s so simple. At the beginning of each meeting, have people walk around & share with others what they will contribute to that particular session. It’s a great way to enhance engagement & help people set goals & hold themselves accountable. It also makes others aware of everyone’s intent.
Ice breakers are not only useful at the beginning of meetings or getting to know new people. They are also a great way to support team building, by creating a positive atmosphere, helping people relax and break down barriers. They can reveal new information about colleagues that otherwise you wouldn’t discover during your everyday routine.
The Four Quadrants is a tried and true team building activity to break the ice with a group or team. It is super easy to prep for and set up – you only need large sheets of paper (flipcharts or similar) and markers. Have people draw up a 2×2 grid and ask them four questions. They should draw the answers in each quadrant. Afterwards they can show eachother their drawings and discuss the creations. The exercise is fun, colorful and visual and can be modified to work with any group and/or topic (just by changing the questions). Questions can cover topics like current challenges, stressors, defining moments, moments of pride, fears, desired outcome for the current gathering etc.
Separate people into same sized teams. Give each a very different jigsaw puzzle (with equal difficulty & number of pieces). Each group has the same amount of time to complete the puzzle.
The secret twist is to switch up a few pieces with the other groups beforehand!
The goal is to finish before the others – so they must figure out collectively how to convince other teams to give up pieces they need. This can be through barter, merging or changing teams, donating minutes etc.
This is a longer game, but one that is worth doing, since it encourages teamwork on several levels – internally and externally too.
Two people should sit facing away from each other. One receives a picture of an object or phrase. Without saying directly what they see, they should describe it to their pair without using words that clearly give it away. Their pair has to draw the specific picture.
The game requires two people to sit facing away from each other, where one team member is given a picture of an object or word. Without specifying directly what it is, the other person must describe the image without using words that clearly give away the image. This is a great game to develop verbal communication.
Everyone has great memories from childhood scavenger hunts. It is a no-brainer then to recreate this experience as an adult. You can do this indoors at the office or outside if the weather is nice. They require a wide range of skills and thinking and diverse personalities to be completed successfully. It is also a great opportunity to mix people into teams who don’t typically work together.
This is a great energiser that requires players to move about as they build an imaginary electric fence. They have to try and cross it without touching it and getting “electrocuted”. The fence can be represented by a rope or a shoe string tied between two objects. It should be about waist high. Players can’t go under it, this is not limbo dancing! They must also be touching a teammate with at least one hand at all times. The game requires quick brainstorming, problem solving and negotiating other ideas. Make sure that people who are uncomfortable with physical contact have an option to not participate but still feel involved in the brainstorming part.
The object of this game is to introduce event participants to each other by co-creating a mural-sized, visual network of their connections. – great for medium size events where participants come from different organisations. All participants will need a 5×8 index card and access to markers or something similar to draw their avatar. They will also need a substantial wall covered in butcher paper to create the actual network. Once their avatar is ready, they “upload” themselves by sticking their card to the wall. Then they find the people they know and draw lines to make the connections.
Ice breaker games usually all have a strong aspect of teamwork and collaboration as people work together in groups to accomplish a challenge or solve a puzzle. Therefore these activities can also be used as part of team building events and team development workshops. They are meant to fast-track group familiarity and increase the socialization process in a new or existing environment. With increased social interaction, people naturally learn how to work together more productively – the mood can warm up between colleagues who are normally highly formal with each other. The best ice breakers have the power to strengthen coworker bonds, stimulate better brainstorming sessions, and create an atmosphere of inclusivity.
In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, collaboration, innovation and problem solving strategy.
The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world.
This fun activity could be used as an icebreaker both for people who have just met and for already existing teams. Breaking people up into groups, each one needs a fresh egg, some straws, masking tape and other items for creating a package to protect the egg. Using the raw materials provided, the team goal is to build a structure that will support a free falling egg dropped from a predetermined height (e.g. 7 feet) without the egg breaking. This is a method that shows and fosters team communication, collaboration and strategic thinking as well.
This is a simple game to enhance teamwork and problem solving & requires one long, thin, light rod (e.g. a broom handle). Line up people in two rows facing each other. Introduce the Helium Stick and ask participants to hold their index fingers out. Lay the Stick on their fingers & before letting go, have everyone adjust their position so the Stick is horizontal and everyone is touching it. The goal is to lower the Stick to the ground in a way that no one lets go of it at any time. Pinching, grabbing or holding on properly to the Stick is not allowed. If the group makes a mistake, they start from the beginning.
Blindfold your seated participants. Take a long string or rope with the ends tied together & place it in everyone’s hands. Leave the circle and ask them to form a perfect square from the rope without looking.
When people think they are finished, they can remove their blindfolds to see the result.
This is a great game to highlight leadership and communication – some people will want to take charge, while others are more comfortable following direction. Also it can be repeated after the first try to see if they can improve their collaboration.
The best ice breakers have the power to strengthen coworker bonds, stimulate better brainstorming sessions, and create an atmosphere of inclusivity. They’re also incredibly fun to play, making them a welcomed break from regular work activities. They break down barriers that might exist between employees & make it easier for people to communicate with one another.
Icebreakers also encourage lighthearted interactions that wouldn’t usually take place in the context of a normal workday. When the correct game is chosen, everyone benefits from the energy they bring to any meeting or event.
This game is a fun one that requires some creativity. It enhances a sense of community because people have to draw the others as a group – not just between the drawers, but the recipients of the portraits too. The outcome is very visual and colourful, the images can be put up in the meeting room.
Stick the name of a well-known celebrity or public figure on people’s backs. Have players mingle and ask each other questions to find out who they are. This is a light game that initiates easy conversations without forced & awkward small talk. Make sure the figures are generally well recognisable.
This is a warm-up to really get a group energized. It is a game based on the traditional Rock Paper Scissors game but with a twist. The people who lost become fans and have to cheer for the players still in the game. The final is cheered on by a large crowd & the excitement is through the roof! If there are a larger number of people, you can have multiple tournaments.
Create a surprise sentence by saying one word at a time. Give a general topic. The first person in the group says one word to a topic. The next person continues with another word. Eventually the group creates a whole sentence by each member contributing only one word at a time. The outcome is always unexpected & almost always funny. Make sure people don’t say two words when using articles or pronouns.
Set up harmless obstacles in the room you’re meeting in. Use squeaky toys, whoopie cushions, bubble wrap and the like. Everyone takes turns going around the course while blindfolded, guided by their teammates. The goal is: help each to navigate through the minefield.
This activity helps people ease in a group and brings out their creativity without a lot of effort. Splitting the group into pairs, each pair develops a creative handshake. Once done, the pair splits and each individual partners with another group member. The newly formed pair then teaches each other the original handshakes and together creates a new one. You can break up and pair off people as many times as you want.
Divide players into several groups and have each team come up with an idea for a movie they want to make. They should prepare a pitch within 10 minutes. Once everyone had a chance to tell their idea, all players vote on which idea deserves ‘funding’. The winners won’t start to make their film, but they should get awarded with either a funny object or some treats
For this game, you have to have quick reactions or you’ll be eliminated. Have everyone stand in a circle with one person in the middle as the ‘sheriff’. They must surprise other players by pointing to them. These people must quickly crouch and those on either side of them have to quickly ‘draw’ their weapons. If you are too slow, you switch places & become the sheriff. It is a very funny game where you can come up with many different strategies on how to surprise people. It can also help with name-learning, but if you have more than 30 people, it’s better to play in parallel groups.
Have new team mates tell a joke at their first all-hands meeting. This is a great way to encourage people to be vulnerable and also ensures the meetings start on a cheery note.
This a simple icebreaker activity energises participants, and it’s also suitable for highlighting spontaneity and teamwork. The activity involves participants standing in a circle and throwing imaginary ball(s) to each other in increasing pace. When throwing the first ball, the person starting should make a special sound that has to be repeated by the catcher upon receiving the ball. Once the ball is being thrown around at a fairly brisk pace, you can introduce another imaginary ball and start throwing it. When the group gets proficient at it, you can have three or four balls in play.
This is a seemingly contradictory icebreaker that actually results in lots of smiles. Instruct everyone to keep a straight face and do not smile under ANY circumstance in the first five minutes of the meeting. People turn into children with an instruction like this, and immediately start looking at others, seeing how they cope. The anticipation makes everyone giggly, so after a while they cannot suppress their laughter anymore.
We hope you have found some useful tips for practical and fun ice breaker games. Now we’d love to hear from you.
What are your favourite ice breaker activities? Have you tried any of the methods above? How did you find them? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.