'Ice-breaker' quickie

Written by Christine Carmichael on 4 April 2017

Hello all, may I pick your creative brains? I'm facilitating an away day for 2 groups ( one of ten people, the other of twenty) who are coming together to work on a project. They comprise board trustees through to co-ordinators, and each group will get to know each other and plan how they will work together on the forthcoming project. I'd like to do a fun icebreaker with them at the outset but the challenge is there's only 10 minutes available for it. I'd be really grateful for any suggestions! The room will be laid out cabaret style with four tables and I'm going to allocate the seating to mix them up. Ideas will be gratefully received!

Thanks in anticipation....


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Submitted on 5 April, 2017 - 10:24

Hi Chris - what a great challenge!  I look forward to seeing others' ideas.  The first thing that occurred to me was that you want something that raises the positive energy in the room and generally makes people feel good.  One way might be to get the people at each table to introduce themselves to each other, say what they are most looking forward to about working on this project, and maybe share the nicest thing that has happened to them recently.


Hilary Cooke

Submitted on 5 April, 2017 - 10:34

Hi Chris,

I have a preference to avoid "organised" ice breakers on most occasions, mainly because attention can get more focused on the activity itself and less on getting people talking about real issues. (Actually, I think it is also about me - as I absolutely dread being made to do something that puts me in the spotlight with people I don't know.)

So I try to get them working together on some sort of opening activity that is related to our purpose and gently starts to opens up various worm cans and fish kettles so they can let the air in from the start.

With that in mind, how about getting them just to mill around in a section of the room and bump into as many people as they can to finish a sentence stem such as.."If I was in charge of this project I would..." or "the success of this project means .... to me because..." or come at it from a place of "if this project doesn't succeed then..." You can make up your own stem to suit - but the wording is important so hone it to get it right.

Give them about 30 seconds with each person and then move them on. They just need to shake hands, finish their sentence as an exchange, say thank you and move on. It's an exchange, not a discussion or conversation (yet). Keep them moving (and watch out for sticky clumps of people near the door!) You can avoid this by bossily striding amongst them saying "move on, move on and find someone more interesting to talk to..." - with a whistle or your phone on timer making irritating noises if needed and the clumpers are particularly sticky!  Also make a "rule" at the beginning that we have to talk to people we don't yet know, or know less about.

Once your 10 minutes is up (and if they have kept moving, they will have encountered a few people) you could clump them together in their table groups and task them to come up with common themes that they heard and shared and that will melt magically into your agenda and outcomes for the day. Several ways to do that such as groups to a flipchart or back in their safe seats with a group shout-out and you collecting the themes and aligning them with the agenda for today.

This also has the advantage of making the day appear to be a collaborative effort because people have had a say from the beginning and sets a precedent that you are prepared to be open and front things in this space - so it sets a tone for the rest of the event.

I hope it helps and let us know how it goes.

Best wishes



Submitted on 5 April, 2017 - 13:14

Loving Hilary's contribution and I like to make something fun and related to the task in hand so I might pinch Hilary's tip.  I also have a bell - like an old fashioned shop bell- and I would use this to get people to move on.  It's fun but not too frivolous and I enjoy ringing it - it's a win win all round.  Enjoy.


Hilary Cooke

Submitted on 5 April, 2017 - 19:01

Thanks Sharon - ooh yes - nothing better than a good old fashioned bell. I have several joined together on a long piece of cord - very useful and forgot to mention them. 

So much fun to be had annoying people by moving around and randomly ringing them until people shift position. Pavlov started it with those salivating dogs... which reminds me: I also have a collection of buzzers that provide a variety of farm yard noises...  



Submitted on 5 April, 2017 - 15:51

If anything makes my heart sink more than the word "icebreaker" it's the phrase "fun icebreaker"... I wonder if the same is true for training participants.

Since these guys are going to be working together and also given that there is hierarchy involved (coordinators through to board trustees), I would allow for anxiety and do something initially that feels safe.  Building on Hilary's idea and assuming people have varying degrees of knowing each other and/or about each other, I offer:

"One thing I've heard you're really good at is...." with a simple "Thank you" by way of response or "I don't yet know your strengths.  Would you tell me one thing you're really good at?"  Both ways.

And I realise it's culturally not common to focus on strengths so that this might be uncomfortable for some.  This is something that could be picked up later on.  I do, though, think that something around the behavioural side of working together could be valuable from the beginning, to set the tone for this side of their collaboration.

A safer option might be "One thing I really appreciate when I'm working with other people is..." with an "Oh, that's interesting.  One thing I really appreciate when working with other people is..."





Submitted on 6 April, 2017 - 12:26

Hi Christine

Wow that's a challenge.  Loving the other's ideas.  Something we use a lot with large groups is speed meeting.  

Muddle everyone up and line them up across the room in two lines of 15 facing one another.  

Their task is to say to the person opposite I am..., I am based at...., I am here to.... and for breakfast I had.... (you make this last thing anything  - my favourite film is, my last holiday was to...)  

This should take no more than 30 seconds per encounter.  

Keep a hooter handy to get them to move on and not talk too long.

One of the lines moves along one person each time so the static line always have a new person in front of them.

When they've all 'met' you cut the lines into two and set up another version so they now meet all the people in the line they were in.  

You'll have odd numbers so if you have spare bodies get them to join in or nominate two people to act as one and do a double meeting.  

Eventually they will mostly all have met but you can continue to cut down the lines until they all meet.  

This activity is fast and furious and quite a leveller. Everyone should feel more likely to chatting and contributing afterwards. If you can't get your head round the logistics give me a shout. Best of luck. Liz liz@pineappleconsulting.co.uk


Submitted on 9 April, 2017 - 16:09

Icebreakers can be heart sinkers Dorothy I agree, however if they are fast, furious and don't put people in a difficult position (beyond speaking to someone they don't know) they can be seen as less cringe worthy in most cases.  Bells, buzzers, horns - all good things to get people to loosen up.  Love the contributions as always and will be pinching some of these for the future I am sure. 


Submitted on 13 April, 2017 - 11:51

Am I the only one who loves icebreakers? Both conducting them and being a participant! I think they work so well for people similar to me; however, I appreciate that not everyone is excited about them. 

One that I like is a 'cocktail party' - unfortunately without drinks though.

People will mingle in the room and they have 30 seconds to meet as many people as they can, asking the other person the following questions:

- What are you most proud of in 2016? (insert previous year)

- What are you most looking forward to in 2017? (this year)

- What's one thing in your life you consider special?

The key thing in this icebreaker is that the topics discussed MUST NOT BE ABOUT WORK. This sets a different atmosphere, as people who know each other from work are so used to talking about work that they may struggle not to talk about work. Everyone will, however, learn something new about each other, and it highlights the fact that we are all people outside of the work environment as well.

Hilary Cooke

Submitted on 25 May, 2017 - 12:31

Hi Chris,

I'm curious...what did you end up doing and how did it go?

What was the outcome?

What did you learn?

Would love to know, if you have 5 minutes to share....



Submitted on 30 May, 2017 - 13:13

Hello Hilary (and other kind suggesters of ideas)

Apologies for radio silence, I haven't spent much time in at a PC lately, and struggled to log back in here when I did!

Thank you all so much for your imaginative ideas. I drew on all of them, most especially yours Liz Brant :).

I announced it to the delegates as a speedy intro, rather than a 'fun ice-breaker' - although the latter is exactly what it was! Lots of energy, lots of laughter. It changed the quiet, whispery atmosphere into an 'energised' (pardon the cliche), but relaxed, start to the day.

The hiccups were: I underestimated how much room would be needed for 2 lines of 15 people - with sufficient space for individuals to walk along the outside of one of the lines down to the other end (concentric circles may have worked better in this situation); it was so noisy that no-one could hear the 30 second horn sounds, or even my loud voice - so I had to physically manhandle them to move them along (especially one of the more 'senior' trustees who despite her frailty could talk for England); there were 10 from one organisation and 20 from the other - who already knew each other, which made the logistics challenging, and because it took longer to move them on there was insufficient time to break the groups down into two and set up 'another version' - so when the big group finished I simply shouted that their challenge now was to find, and introduce themselves, to anyone in the room that they hadn't previously met!

It was organised chaos and it absolutely worked a treat. Thank you all so much for your fab suggestions!