The word “icebreaker” will usually elicit a round of groans and eyerolls from employees. Unfortunately, icebreaker games have earned a negative reputation for a variety of reasons: they tend to feel forced and awkward, aren’t always inclusive of all personality types, and can make people uncomfortable. However, that doesn’t need to be the case.
If you match thoughtful icebreaker ideas to the right work situations, they can encourage collaboration, boost employee engagement, and generate energy across the whole company. Not to mention they’re a ton of fun when done considerately. Below, we share our favorite icebreakers for a variety of work situations.
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Icebreaker games for work
This list of icebreaker ideas can be used in most general work situations because they're flexible, scalable, and fairly low effort to plan. Whether you want to implement them for the whole company, or a smaller group of employees, these icebreaker games are perfect for accommodating a range of work scenarios and personality types.
#1 Scavenger hunt: Most people have fond memories of scavenger hunts from their childhood. The great news is that you can do them as adults too! Scavenger hunts are an engaging activity that can take place in the office or in an outdoor setting. They require diversity in thinking styles and personalities to successfully complete, and they’re also a way to give people who typically don’t work together a chance to collaborate.
#2 What’s my name: Write down the names of well-known public figures on pieces of paper, then stick them on the backs of each employee. Everyone will need to mingle and ask each other questions to figure out who they are. This icebreaker encourages light one-on-one interactions without the forced awkwardness of making small talk.
#3 Jenga questions: Who doesn’t love a good game of Jenga? Write thoughtful questions on each block to open up conversations - whether that’s asking about someone’s career goals or their favorite ice cream flavor. As each person pulls a block, they answer the question written on it.
#4 Salt and pepper: Come up with pairs of things like salt and pepper, sun and moon, etc. Separate the pairs and write only one of them per piece of paper, then tape one on the back of each person. Everyone must walk around asking yes or no questions to find out what word they have. The next step is to find their pair, then sit down together to learn three facts about each other.
#5 BYOI: Host an icebreaker ‘happy hour’ and ask everyone to BYOI (bring your own icebreaker). This is a great way to collect fun icebreakers for the future and encourage everyone to try different activities. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable with one of the icebreaker games, they can always opt to sit out and still be able to join for others.
Icebreaker games for new hires
Icebreakers can be an effective and enjoyable way to get to know new hires - and, no, it doesn’t have to be awkward. These ideas are easy to do with a group of employees who don’t know each other and encourages stress-free personal sharing.
#6 Two truths, one lie: A simple and classic game. Each employee shares three statements about themselves - two true, and one false. Then, everyone tries to guess which is the lie. The whole point is to learn facts about your peers while inserting an element of mystery.
#7 Whose story is it? With this icebreaker, everyone writes down their silliest or funniest (but true) story on a piece of paper. The stories get dropped into a hat, are randomly picked and read out loud, and everyone has to try and guess which story belongs to who. This is another way to pick up fun facts about your new hires.
#8 Find 10 things in common: Employees are assigned into groups and must find ten things they have in common with every other person in the group. The twist? All the commonalities must have nothing to do with work. This helps everyone explore shared interests outside the office and is a way for new hires to connect with their colleagues on a personal level.
#9 “What if” questions: Have everyone come up with a list of “what if” questions to ask each other. This can be anything from “what if you woke up as an animal tomorrow - what would you be?” Or “what if it started to rain desserts tomorrow - what would you choose?” While these questions may seem trivial, they can actually teach you a lot about the preferences, humor, and values of others.
#10 Share a joke: This is a rite of passage at Culture Amp. We have our new Campers tell a joke at their first all-hands meeting. Not only is it an embodiment of one of our company values to “have the courage to be vulnerable,” but it also makes for great laughs.
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Icebreaker games for meetings
Meetings can get mundane over time. To shake things up, try one of these meeting icebreakers, which are intentionally snappy, easy to execute, and specifically geared toward getting the creative juices flowing for a productive conversation.
#11 Word association. Pick a prompt that’s relevant to your meeting and ask people to either write down or verbally share one word they associate with it. For instance, if you’re leading a meeting about your company’s culture, ask the group to share one word that they believe describes the organizational culture - then discuss the results. This icebreaker helps the group explore their thoughts on a common issue before diving into the meeting agenda.
#12 “I agree” exercise. Write down several statements, assumptions, or cliches about a topic that’s relevant to your meeting. For example, let’s say you want to discuss “the definition of a great leader” and list out items like “must be extroverted” or “powerful speaker.” You can then ask participants to vote on the statements they agree or disagree with and lead a discussion on the results before starting the meeting.
#13 Purpose mingle. This can be an ongoing icebreaker since it’s easy to do! Have everyone walk around to as many people as possible and share what they hope to contribute to the meeting. It’s a way for employees to hold themselves accountable to their goals for the meeting, and also make others aware of what’s on their agenda.
#14 Two sides of a coin. For this meeting icebreaker, put everyone into pairs and have one person share a recent, negative experience. Then have them discuss and identify something positive that came from the experience. Switch to the other partner. This will help everyone get into a more optimistic and problem-solving mindset before the meeting.
#15 Problem-Solution. Give everyone a few minutes to select a handful of the biggest problems related to the upcoming meeting. Then have people freely share ideas - no matter how big or small - on how to solve them. This encourages fresh perspectives on problems others may not have even been aware of in the first place. Make sure to make it clear that this meeting is a safe zone where there are no bad ideas.
Icebreaker games for teams
These team icebreakers are ideal for people who work with each other on a regular basis and want to strengthen their bond further. While they’re most productive when the participants are familiar with each other, they can certainly be used by newer team members as well.
#16 Building challenge. You may have encountered variants of this popular activity. Whether it’s building the tallest structure possible using only pasta and string or designing a damage-proof container that can protect an egg during a long drop, the goal of these building challenges is to practice compromise, communication, and collaboration.
#17 Bumper sticker. Come into this team icebreaker with a problem in mind. Divide everyone into groups and ask each person to create a bumper sticker that summarizes the challenge. By asking everyone to consolidate the problem into one phrase, you simplify the problem and will hopefully be able to come up with creative solutions as a result.
#18 Blind drawing. The game requires two people to sit facing away from each other, where one team member is given a picture of an object or word. Without specifying directly what it is, the other person must describe the image without using words that clearly give away the image.
#19 Pay it forward. Have each team member look to the person on their right side and write three positive attributes about them. This is a feel-good activity to bring out the best in each other, highlight strengths, and share appreciation for the team.
#20 Don’t judge me. Have each team member anonymously write something they felt guilty about during the week - whether it’s work or personal. Then have everyone share words of encouragement and forgiveness. By practicing vulnerability, your team will build trust with each other while also getting the guilt off their chest. A win-win!
Despite popular belief, icebreakers don’t have to be an unpleasant experience. As long as you’re mindful of the needs, preferences, and personality types of your employees, icebreaker games can boost the employee experience and serve as a wonderful addition to any workplace setting - whether that’s a meeting, new hire onboarding, or team offsite. If you're looking for more ideas, check out this list of icebreaker activities from Atlassian's team playbook.
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