Ice breaking, Team building, Energising…
It is All about Framing Cooperation!

Charlot Cassar

Whether you’re meeting your group for the first time or seeing them for the umpteenth time, a good introductory activity can go a long way towards enthusing participants and getting them in the right frame of mind to collaborate. A good icebreaker, warmer, energiser or team building activity is fun and non-threatening and it can help you set the scene for more “serious” work.

There are plenty of such activities readily available online, often bearing different titles and with as many variations to the theme as one can imagine. However, it is not the activity in itself that is important but rather a whole series of variables that would render a particularly successful activity in one context a total flop in another. In choosing an icebreaker, warmer, energiser or team building activity, I consider the theme, the context, the aims of the training, lesson, session or meeting. I also consider my specific objectives, or  the questions and issues I want to raise.

The same activity can be adapted to different contexts and can serve different purposes so it will never really be the same. Almost always, new insights will emerge, some of which I just acknowledge in passing while others require careful consideration, either there and then or at some later point in the interaction. As a trainer, teacher or staff member, you need to be creative, think on your feet and make instantaneous decisions as to where you want the activity to go and lead it in that direction. 

So how do you choose the right icebreaker, warmer, energiser or team building activity?

Browse for ideas online, with a general notion of what you may be looking for and with a very open mind. Allow yourself the time and luxury to browse and of course, the more you browse, the vaster your pool of ideas becomes… Bookmark, download, save or file away the ideas that strike a chord, even if you may not be using them there and then.  And then think not in terms of the activity per se, but in terms of the processes, how you can make these your own and how they can be exploited for your specific needs. In time, you will create your own arsenal of favourite activities that are fun, engaging and adaptable to different contexts and needs.

Here is an example of an introductory activity that has become one of my favourites, mostly because of its adaptability to different contexts and needs and also because it does not require any resources. The activity is readily available online and is generally called “Race for the Truth”. It is really quite straightforward. Have your participants stand in a line. Read out a number of statements and ask them to take one step forward for every statement that is true for them.  Simple enough, right? Not quite! If you take any number of statements that usually come with this activity then you will not get much out of it other than getting to know who prefers tea over coffee. Yet the activity could provide so much more.

To start with, I like to assess the mood of the group with a statement that reads something like “I would so much prefer being…”.  This helps to establish empathy – some of the participants may not be looking forward to whatever it is you have to offer. It acknowledges feelings and establishes honesty. If all participants step forward I know that they are at least honest about how they feel and if they all stay put,  then I usually call their bluff, in a nice way of course.

I then read out a few statements that will provide me with concrete information about the group, acknowledge previous experience the participants might have, and checking for background knowledge and information. This will of course depend on the theme. So for example, if the theme is online social media, I might ask questions like:

  • I am an active user of more than 1 social network.

  • I log on to a social networking site at least once a day.

  • I have my personal blog.

  • I am a member of an online community of practice.

I usually put in a couple of fun statements, to really break the ice and get people smiling and possibly giggling. And finally, I try to bridge the icebreaker with what will follow next, by some statement like “I am open to learn more about…”

The activity itself will take a maximum of 5 minutes but if you plan the statements well, the answers will inform your decisions during the rest of the lesson or workshop with your students, trainees or staff members. And of course it does not stop there. I usually allow between 10 and 15 minutes to debrief and go through the reasoning behind the choice of activity, what this has done for me as the trainer, what it has done for the participants, and how the same activity could be adapted for the participants’ specific contexts.

There is no ready-made recipe for successful activities.

For an icebreaker, warmer, energiser or team building activity to be truly meaningful, you need to “own” it as your own, giving it your own particular flavour and colour, imbuing it with your personality and flair. It takes time, perseverance and an openness to fail and learn from your own mistakes. But it is definitely worth it!

Icebreakers, warmers and energisers are all valuable team building activities to get the team going and prepare the ground for active and meaningful co-operation. Next time your inner voices suggests skipping such an activity for lack of time or other apparent constraints, don’t take any notice and go right ahead!

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