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  • Kate Ainscough

The Dreaded Icebreaker...


I’ve been out and about a lot this month, attending workshops and design sprints so I’ve been exposed to some awesome new ice breakers which I thought might be useful to share.

Firstly, I think the term ice breaker is a bit ‘1970’s cocktail party’ and I’m always slightly worried I’m going to have to do something scary with juggling balls or asked to confess a deep dark secret. But I do like to know the names of people in the room and a bit about them. Personally, I find it easier to remember a name if I can associate it with something interesting about them, i.e. Mark, Head of Digital becomes Mark, the guy who owns four chihuahuas.

Here are a few ideas to try:

Social Media Footprint

This is currently my favourite ice breaker. First, I ask people what I would read about them on LinkedIn; they typically state job title, company, work history etc. Then, I ask what I would read about them on their Facebook and Instagram pages or their Twitter feed. What usually follows is amusing stories (occasional embarrassment!) about their pictures of nights out, holidays, hobbies and even their pets. One to watch out for here is the someone who proudly announces they “Don’t do social media.” I usually ask them to tell me something interesting about themselves and if they are still struggling I might ask where they went on their last holiday.

What I Know to be True

I recently attended a We Are Liminal Workshop facilitated by Roland Harwood where this exercise was used and worked brilliantly to introduce a workshop of approximately twenty people who had never met each other before. It’s a bit like musical chairs…

Everyone sits in a circle with the facilitator standing in the middle; make sure there are no empty chairs. The facilitator starts by saying “What I know to be true is ……” and fills in the gaps with a statement which is personal to them. For example, “What I know to be true is…. I cycled to this workshop today’.

Anyone who identifies with the statement, i.e. they too cycled to the workshop, also stands up and steps forward. Then, the facilitator takes a vacated seat, at which point who everyone stood, can sit down again but in a different chair to the one they stood up from. And yes, you guessed it, there’s one person left standing, who then goes to the centre and makes their “What I know to be true is..” statement. And repeat.

What I liked so much about this is while you are learning a bit about the others, it also allows you to disclose as much as you like without feeling uncomfortable. It also allows you to make empathetic connections quickly. For example, you may wish to just stick with sharing your commute details or you may share something more personal i.e. ‘What I know to be true is… I was feeling a bit nervous about attending this workshop today’.

Groups

This is a lovely exercise borrowed from my friends at Purple Monster; I’ve found that this works well in larger groups where you have slightly more space. You get everyone onto their feet and ask them to self-select into groups, such as having brother/sister/both or having had stitches/broken bones/both. You can select or ask a few people to share their stories. Always surprises me what people will share in these situations.

Portraits

I ran this exercise recently at a big charity conference with over one hundred people in the room. Everyone gets into pairs, preferably with someone they don’t know and then they have three minutes to draw their partners portrait before swapping paper. This works well in large groups as although the majority of people won’t be able to come up with anything recognisable, there is usually a secret artist or someone good at drawing caricatures which can be shared across the audience. In design sprints we sometimes do this day one, then add names and stick them on the walls. You can also make this exercise slightly more difficult by asking people to draw with their left hand or draw blindfolded.

Two Truths, One Lie

This can work well when you have groups who know each other well and feel relatively comfortable and confident with each other. Ask each person to write down two truths and one lie about themselves and the remaining team members have to spot the lie. This can be slightly awkward if individuals don’t know each other well or have trouble making things up, so careful facilitation maybe required.

What I wanted to be when I grew up …

This is a quick one liner I just sometimes throw in after lunch when energy levels can sometime flag. And since you ask …. a marine biologist … so now you know.

Feel free to give these a go and if you have some new workshop ice breakers that you would like to share then please get in touch at Hello@freestyleinnovation.co.uk

#innovation #icebreaker #workshop

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