Breaking the Ice
First day of school: new year, new classroom, new teacher. “Alright class, take a piece of paper and find something that you have in common with each of your classmates.” If you have ever been forced to wander aimlessly around a room asking people if they too have a pet fish and then created long lasting relationships with that quick interaction, I salute you. I, for one, have never been able to authentically connect with my peers in that way. Unfortunately, over the years, I have seen many use this as a way to try to connect people; in the classroom, in clubs and organizations, and in the workplace. It may be a great starting point, but it’s not enough in the long run to help build an environment that fosters trust and open communication. Personally, I found that I would get through the first two months of school and still not know the names of the people sitting around me. Seventeen years later, I have been able to see how these kinds of frivolous activities, while they may be good intentioned, can actually limit group members’ ability to be successful. Getting-to-know-you activities are vitally important to groups being able to form, but they must be intentional, fit the group dynamic, and have a clear purpose in order for them to have the greatest impact.
As a junior in college, I remember walking into one of my classes and then being asked to leave the room. Maybe I should rephrase that…we were asked to get out of our seats and go outside to complete an experiential activity. At first the activity was uncomfortable, none of us really knew each other and I could see that no one wanted to take control of the situation. I turned to the person next to me, introduced myself and asked for help. Then, the student across from me looked to the person next to him and started brainstorming solutions. Within five minutes, every person in the class was communicating with each other, sharing ideas, experiences, and insights, and accomplishing so much more than just the activity. We were learning each other’s names and supporting each other to complete the task at hand.
We were no longer strangers, and through this experience we laid the foundation for us to create a positive work climate built on authentic relationships. Because of this, I now subscribe to the notion, ‘We play how we practice.’ Whether you are in an academic or a professional setting, facilitating groups through activities sets the tone for how they will work together in the future. Simple, intentional icebreakers, like the one I experienced in class, allow people the opportunity to have fun while they get to naturally know the people that they work with. Just as I was able to notice commonalities between myself and my classmates beyond the superficial fact that we attended the same school, were enrolled in the same course…or had a pet fish.
What this means for us as leaders is that one of the most important, but also most difficult responsibilities is truly knowing your followers: what motivates them, what are their values, what can they contribute? When we get to know the people we work with on a deeper level, it helps them to want to work with and follow you. Simply being a part of the same organization won’t do that. Learn something meaningful about each other, your roles, values, and work ethic to create a foundation for a high functioning team so that your group can be successful together. Be intentional and and create experiences that are impactful stepping-stones that will be used to foster deeper and stronger relationships.
I think that many organizations have a negative view of icebreakers, but I’m sure it’s because of we’ve all had negative experiences…which is such a shame! There are some ideas and tips listed below if you’re interested in exploring more positive and impactful icebreaker experiences. Your employees, team members, peers, or even family and friends will appreciate of the door you open to a more comfortable and communicative environment and the long lasting relationships that you create.
The key to any icebreaker is flexibility; the ability to modify for a fluctuating number of individuals in a group setting. Rules need be clear and concise, and the activities should allow anyone to join at any given moment.
*Meet the Author*
Moving down the coast of California, Victoria completed her education with a B.A. in Communication Studies at Chapman University. Recently graduating from the university, she wants to continue to learn, grow, and develop as an individual. Victoria is someone who envisions herself as a different person 10 years from now. Living by the quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi), Victoria plans to overcome changes through her life while gaining knowledge and perspective through insight from a variety of communities and cultures.