Why do you need icebreakers?

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Have you participated in more than your share of bad icebreakers? Those introductory exercises that happen when someone wants to get a group engaged. Ones where you just want it to be over fast? We have too, which is why we were determined to create something different.

What’s the purpose of an icebreaker?

Icebreakers serve a particular purpose. In their ideal form, they start getting people engaged with each other and the topic of the session. Too often, the focus is just to get people talking instead of being mindful about how the activity relates to why a person is in attendance. Many adults do not enjoy pointless activities. For many group facilitators, activities are fun. But to a lot of other types of people, they aren’t. So they need to have a reason beyond potential enjoyment to appeal to a wide range of people.

I also strongly believe icebreakers need to be designed so everyone can be successful. No right or wrong. I want my icebreakers to help people get comfortable, not to embarrass them or set off anxiety. Of course, it’s not possible to make this true for every single person because what is comfortable for one, isn’t for another. But overall, I want to the room to feel engaged and ready to embrace why we are gathered at the end of the icebreaker.

What does the group most need?

When designing the Visual Icebreaker Kit, I selected five focus areas that icebreakers serve when starting group interactions.

  1. Introductions: Get a sense of who is in the room
  2. Trust building: Help people feel comfortable talking with each other and participating
  3. Mini Assessment: Discover where people are relative to the topic
  4. Engagement: Spur on interaction with the topic
  5. Alignment: Orient the group to move in the same direction.

Selecting an activity

Activity selection emerges from the intersection of your goal for the overall experience and what the group needs. Once you are clear about where the group is and where you hope they can go, select a prompt that starts the group on that path. The more closely your icebreaker matches the reason people came to the session the better.


Want more?

Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Tip: Let's Talk Conflict

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  • Shhhhh… If we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen.
  • Let sleeping giants lie.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Maybe it will just go away.

Any of these sound familiar when it comes to talking about conflict? For many people, the default setting for dealing with the issue is “Avoid.” Unfortunately, hoping it doesn’t come up is like sitting on the Titanic and hoping the iceberg only lightly brushed the hull. Life jackets anyone?

Conflict happens

Take the proactive approach to talking about conflict, because it is going to happen. At some point, your ship is going to hit that iceberg and if you’ve made advance preparations, you won’t have to abandon ship.

There are two basic approaches to broaching the topic. The direct one is to start conversations around what conflict is or how your team is going to deal with it when it does surface. Take a close look at your group and assess whether they would be comfortable with this direct tactic.
The indirect approach is to talk about subjects where conflict can develop. Discussions around trust and respect are rich areas to explore, because a breach of trust or disrespectful behavior is guaranteed to create conflict.

Start small with an icebeaker

One simple way to sow the seeds for successfully dealing with conflict is through icebreaker exercises. Over a period of time, using the Visual Icebreaker Kit to have short conversations about respect, trust, successful team experiences, what people value, etc will help you to lay a strong foundation for dealing with conflict when it arises. This longer-term way of thinking and preparing will set you apart from those who needlessly avoid the topic.

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Icebreaker: A Deck In The Hand…

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Sometimes, you just never know when VisualsSpeak may come in handy! Take, for instance, the case of Jane Schue.

Jane is a facilitator who is working with a local nonprofit, Life By Design NW. Life By Design, in cooperation with a local community college, works to be the “go-to place” for people rethinking their life after age 50.

Jane was in a program to become one of their facilitators when the training session shifted focus to personal strengths. The class was going to talk about each person’s strengths, and have a discussion. But Schue had an inspired thought!

She reached into her bag and pulled out…the VisualsSpeak Icebreaker Kit! In no time flat, she led her fellow participants and the trainer in an exercise to share personal strengths. Images were scattered, discussion was flowing, and the mood was buoyant. Participants had a chance to ‘own’ a strength by sharing it in this way, and it proved to be a great introduction to the topic. It was a big hit!

Well done, Jane — and great ingenuity to have the VisualsSpeak mini deck handy in your bag! Thanks so much for sharing this story.

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Working with Stressed Teams

Many of you are faced with creating programs for teams who are exhausted from change. The team may have faced layoffs and most are being asked to do more work with less resources than ever.

In this five minute video I show you how to get these sessions off to a strong start by making name tents using our Visual Icebreaker Kit. There are instructions for this exercise in the manual included in the kit.

 

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Group Storytelling: Once Upon a Group

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Purpose:

This exercise gets energy flowing by tapping into the creative side of the participants

Process:

Each participant adds one or two sentences—and an image—to the story that begins with the prompt. Each participant has 30 seconds to select an image to continue the story.

Prompt:

“Once upon a time, there was a group who came together to…”

Tip:

Encourage participants to use their imaginations. It’s not important that they stay with reality.

Debrief:

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with this process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.

  • What was the process like for you?
  • What did you notice?
  • Was there anything interesting or surprising?
  • Do you have any new insights?
  • Did you notice any patterns or trends?
  • Does anyone want to add anything else?

Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Icebreaker: Trust for Success

Purpose:

This icebreaker gives people a chance to talk about what success looks like to them. Answers will help indicate how trust can be built or eroded.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  • Choose an image that reminds you of a successful group or team.
  • Choose an image that reminds you of a great learning experience.

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give participants 30 seconds to select an image. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Share the story of the image

Participants share about their response with the larger group.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.
• What was the process like for you?
• What did you notice?
• Was there anything interesting or surprising?
• Do you have any new insights?
• Did you notice any patterns or trends?
• Does anyone want to add anything else?


Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Visual Writing Prompts: Easy Free-Writer

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Purpose

This exercise gives participants a chance to slow down and take stock of where they are in the process. It lets them focus on a particular area of what they have covered so far.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  •  Select an image that represents (state aspect of topic you want them to reflect on).
  • Choose an aspect of the topic you want the group to write about in advance.
  • Keep the writing topic somewhat broad.

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give participants 30 seconds to select an image. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Give participants one minute to free write about how the image relates to the prompt. Have participants read what they wrote and circle anything that stands out or feels hot. Give participants one additional minute to write about what they circled.

Share the story of the image

Give each participant an opportunity to talk about what they  wrote, if you are writing about a topic where that is appropriate.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.

  • What was the process like for you?
  • What did you notice?
  • Was there anything interesting or surprising?
  • Do you have any new insights?
  • Did you notice any patterns or trends?
  • Does anyone want to add anything else?

Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Stop whining and see alternatives

Everyday we hear stories about how stressed our customers organizations are. Continuous change, resource limitations, and uncertainty are the themes that are constant companions.

What is whining all about?

One concern is that if you let people talk, all they will do is whine.  There are other ways to look at it.  Whining happens when people don’t know what else to do. They can’t make sense of what is going on around them. It’s usually because they don’t understand. {Ok, there are perpetual habitual whiners, but they aren’t who we are talking about here.}

What is really going on?

When people are whining, they are telling you a stuck story. They are seeing from their unique viewpoint, and having trouble seeing alternatives. Using visuals can access a different part of the brain, and allow people to see other ways of thinking about a situation.

There are always multiple ways of looking at things. It is this normal human fact– seeing from our own perspective– that creates stress in groups. It’s also our greatest opportunity for creating our best collective work.

How does this work?

Here’s an example of how our customer, Jean Bonifas did it.

I used four Visual Icebreaker sets in a team building workshop for a health insurance management team.  The CEO requested that everyone share their photos choices to answer “Who are you?” and “What do you bring to the team” with the entire group (15).  This exchange deepened the recognition of  each team member’s value rather than just the folks within their individual small groups.  This group is very stressed by burgeoning growth, new responsibilities and constantly shifting policies.  The process of selecting a photo reconnected them as individuals working to build an effective and successful organization rather than just putting out fires.

Selecting an image that resonated with the team had people operating from the metaphoric right side of the brain.  Then as each person verbalized what it was about that image that expressed who they are, they shared more than words.  Their sharing with others on the team went beyond verbal content (left brain) and seemed to expand the team’s understanding of each person within an intuitive context (right brain).  Very powerful!

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Visual Icebreaker: Today's Hope for the Meeting

Purpose:

This icebreaker gets people to talk about what they want out of the session, and to add their concerns
 to the process. They can also weigh everyone’s views and hopefully accommodate these other opinions.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  • Choose an image that reflects something you hope is present in the meeting today.
  • Choose an image that reflects something you hope is present in the group today.

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give participants 30 seconds to select an image. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Share the story of the image

Participants share about their response with the larger group.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.
• What was the process like for you?
• What did you notice?
• Was there anything interesting or surprising?
• Do you have any new insights?
• Did you notice any patterns or trends?
• Does anyone want to add anything else?


Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

Share

Tip: Make your icebreakers meaningful

icebreaker imageBelieve it or not, icebreakers can be a loaded topic for some people. Announcing this kind of exercise can leave people feeling anxious, because they might have to do something that is outside of their comfort zone. Others immediately scoff and KNOW their time is about to be wasted. You’ve probably done these kinds of exercises: Find someone with two nostrils or find someone with an opposable thumb. They leave people feeling no more connected than when they came in and sometimes more distanced because the ‘waste of time’ shield has come up.

Make it Relevant

The way to get good results with icebreakers is to keep it simple and empower your participants to share about themselves in a way that makes sense to them. For example, with a new team or when a new member joins, ask everyone to select an image in response to the question “Who are you and what do you bring to the team?” The result will get people engaged and participating at a level that is comfortable to them. This process starts to build connections and establish trust.

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