7 Ways To Break The Ice At Team Meetings

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Starting out a meeting with an ice breaker is a great way to shake things up during the workday.  People easily become bored by stand up sessions where everyone just lists off their tasks for the week, or one person drones on and on until everyone begins to picture that scene where Ben Stein is saying, “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…” 

Don’t be like Ben.

The monotony of meetings can weigh down on employees, but a fun icebreaker can get everyone in a better mood and state of mind.  A game might even get those minds working in such a way that the rest of the meeting time is spent much more effectively and efficiently. In fact, there are a lot of reasons to try icebreaker activities. Beginning a meeting with an icebreaker can be good for team building because it can loosen everyone up, increase the energy level, and provide another way to get to know your co-workers.

Whether you break the ice by playing games full of silly questions or with a brain teaser that requires problem-solving skills, you’ll be better off than you were with just another typical meeting. Don’t let dullness be the default. Just like Mary Poppins told Jane and Michael, “You find the fun, aaand snap! The job’s a game!” Man, Mary Poppins knew what she was talking about.

Be like Mary.

Start meetings off with an icebreaker activity and you’ll see how it sets the tone. If you’re not sure what exactly you should do and need to get some inspiration, peruse the list of possibilities below for some stellar ideas.

See Related: 10 Tips for Making Your Online Meeting a Hit with Humor

#1 Share a Fun Fact

People like to feel seen and heard, and maybe even have their humanity acknowledged once in a while, so an activity that asks people to talk about themselves is a great way to start. And since nobody wants to hear about the dreary details of your most depressing story (at least not in this setting), it’s best to focus on something light and fun. So to start the icebreaker you’ll briefly explain the purpose and any ground rules (like no pointing and laughing, unless it’s all in good fun) and then go around the room (or Zoom) and get everyone to share a fun fact.

Ways to break the ice at team meetings

You can provide some guidance or examples for those that might be more reticent to share. For example, you could tell them, “let us know one thing you’ve done that no one would believe,”  or “a celebrity you met that made the best (or worst) impression.” They can share a quirky talent they have, or tell everyone about a mountain they climbed. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a great way to get acquainted, and have something to spark future conversations or connections.

You may need to remind people that it’s a fun fact, not a soliloquy or that stage time they’ve been seeking. Most people have participated in this activity in one form or another, so it’s an easy go-to icebreaker that doesn’t require much instruction.

#2 Play the Name Game

The name game paired with adjective alliteration is always an awesome activity. See what I did there? If not, this is the definition of alliteration according to Merriam Webster:

alliteration: the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables (such as wild and woolly, threatening throngs)

Anyhow, if you’re bringing on a few new team members, games like this are a good opportunity to introduce everyone in a fun, lighthearted fashion. It’s also a great way to get to know each other’s names. For an in-person gathering, simply form a circle or sit around a table. If you’re doing this name game as a way to break the ice online, then find a way to determine the order so everyone is aware of who goes next. Maybe it’s alphabetical or random, but you can email a list out ahead of time. Then let the games begin!

This is how it works. You think of one word that describes you that also starts with the same sound your name does. In other words, if your name is Diego, you could say something like dapper Diego or diligent Diego. There might be an Awesome Aziz or a Resourceful Rebecca (but c’mon Rebecca, “Rockin’ Rebecca” was RIGHT THERE!). Sounds simple enough, right? Well, that would be fine to have everyone introduce themself that way, but you want to get your team to burn each other’s names into their brains. So, here comes the hard part – especially if you have to go last. You not only have to say an adjective and your own name but all the adjective-name combos that came before. That’s right, you need to say, “Okay, we have dapper Diego, Awesome Aziz, Resourceful Rebecca, and I am <insert your adjective and name here>.

Doing this game virtually might allow for some sneakiness, with eventually everyone jotting down the names on a piece of paper they hide from the all-powerful eye of Zoom, but honestly, who cares? It’s just a fun way for a new team member to be introduced to the group. The point is to get to know your team, break the ice, and get through one more meeting alive, isn’t it? Who knows, you might just uncover your own secret talent as a virtual entertainer! 

Bonus: 10 Ways You Can Make Virtual Meetings More Interactive

#3 Whose __ is this anyway?

If you’re looking for icebreaker activities in which people can get to know one another a little better, remember that many of us are visual learners. We are able to store information and recall facts down the road more easily when there is a picture or video presented. With “whose ‘blank’ is this anyway?” each person can share a picture or video with the meeting facilitator ahead of time, based on the question, “whose __ is this anyway?” Of course, you’re going to want to fill in the blank with something specific and work appropriate. You can choose a different noun for different meetings, but you might want to stick to the same subject so that everyone is sharing similar pictures.

For example, if you’re leading the meeting, you could tell team members to send you a picture or short video of their pet. Or, perhaps team members can share a picture of their workspace or garden. This is especially good for small groups of people just getting to know each other. It always helps to have a virtual emcee lead the way in case the group is being too shy!

This being a visual exercise has the added bonus of the information really sinking in. Not that you’ll be quizzing each other on your personal information post-meeting, but learning that Kate’s pet parrot can say “I love you, baby” will probably stick with you longer if you actually get to see video proof.

photo of a blue bird to help break the ice of team meetings

#4 What’s your theme song?

When is music ever a bad idea? Okay, maybe blasting a song as someone tries to tell you their life story isn’t ideal, but for the most part, music is something that can involve and engage everyone. This ice breaker can be done virtually very easily. The host will explain that everyone has a moment or two to find a song that captures their mood that morning and why. Just be aware that when you choose something like Halsey’s “You Should be Sad” you might bum everybody out. Tell people to keep it as work appropriate as possible.

When it comes time for a person’s turn, they play a part of the song for the group. (It can be a predetermined amount of time, and you could even turn it into a “name that tune” game for the rest of the attendees if you like). The idea is to get everyone to feel comfortable with one another and start off the day with some music.

To turn this icebreaker into more of a team building activity, you can have everyone group themselves into their work teams, either in virtual break out rooms or real life rooms. Make sure each group of people agrees on one theme song that fits their work area. If a team is working together on recruitment, maybe their song could be “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Meanwhile, the sales team could choose Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money.”

As far as ice breakers go, it’s a great one for getting everybody in good spirits, and will make you want to move. Not bad for a “Monday Morning” (which, by the way, is a great Fleetwood Mac song to play at the first team meeting of the week).

#5 Scavenger Hunt

Whether you’re in the office or working from home, this is one of those icebreaker games that gets people’s minds and bodies moving. If you’re the host, simply create (or Google) a list of items for your colleagues to collect. You can determine how many items, and that will be the number of rounds that you play. Here’s how a virtual scavenger hunt would work:

For each round, the meeting host announces the item that everyone needs to search for in their house. Once the item is announced, everyone turns off their cameras and starts their search. The first person who comes back, turns on their camera, and shows the item to the meeting host wins that round. After everyone returns to their computer (either with the item or not), the next round can begin. Here are some more thoughts on how to keep score as well as item ideas and other suggestions.

#6 Two Truths and a Lie

Here’s another fun icebreaker that most people have played at one time or another. Just like the name “Two Truths and a Lie” would imply, each person takes a turn telling the group two things about themself that are true, and one thing that is a lie. Then, everybody can hold up their finger or fingers to indicate which thing they think is the one lie (e.g. two fingers if they think the second thing the person said is the lie).  People can also write it on a piece of paper if you want to get more serious or have a record of how many people thought Ruben was really a Rolling Stones roadie

photo of man breaking the ice at team meeting

It’s a good icebreaker that will get your team to have some fun, generate some laughs, and maybe even spark further discussion or lead to questions for later. If you want to see an example of this icebreaker in action, check out see #3 in this previous post.

#7 Marshmallow Challenge

A few years back Peter Skillman, an expert in design and visualization, shared a team activity called the Marshmallow Challenge. The activity has since been shared and attempted tons of times. Like most team building tasks, it was imagined as an in-person activity. There are a couple ways to adapt it to a virtual setting for remote teams, or you can just keep in your back pocket to pull out when everyone’s back in the office. First, I share the basic instructions, and then go into how you can adapt it for an online scenario.

The challenge begins by dividing your team into groups of four. Give every group 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of string, one yard of tape, and a marshmallow. The goal for each team is to build the tallest structure, with the marshmallow on top. This game functions as a fun ice breaker and also gives you insight into how teams work. You can observe individual tendencies, and identify areas for improvement when it comes to communication and processes.

If you’re looking to do this while people work remotely you can divide your groups up ahead of time and provide one person in each group with the necessary supplies (or the funds to purchase them). Then, in virtual breakout rooms have the group discuss how the person with the supplies should configure the items to build the tallest structure possible. The experience will require that group members work together to try new things, listen and add to each other’s ideas, and communicate clearly.

Meetings, meetings, meetings! If your team is starting to sound a little like Jan Brady lamenting all the attention the Marcia gets, as they complain about the amount of meetings there are, take a step back. It could be that you schedule meetings when an email might suffice, or invite people who don’t necessarily need to be in attendance. Or, maybe you need to reconsider how you start a meeting. Why not try taking five minutes for a quick ice breaker? Using ice breakers for meetings, as mentioned multiple times above, can be useful for team building and great for setting the tone. Now that you know how games get people energized and better prepared to collaborate, try starting your next meeting or training session with an icebreaker.

Keep Reading: 5 Ways To Effectively Lead Virtual Team Meetings

Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speaker