When meeting with only a few of your teammates, you’ll likely have more time to get to know one another. We know that building connection in the workplace is key to unlocking better collaboration, so take advantage of these smaller meetings to foster a sense of community. We also know that ice breakers not only facilitate group bonding, but also have a measurable impact on creativity and productivity.
For groups of 5-10 people, set aside 10 minutes at the beginning of your meeting just to do something fun and engaging, and then reap the benefits of stronger relationships as you work to solve tough problems and drive better business outcomes.
What is an ice breaker?
There are many variations, but generally speaking, ice breakers can be broken down into three categories: questions, activities, and games.
Ice breaker questions
An ice breaker exercise can be as simple as posing a question to your team, and then going around the group to gather responses. One way to mix up the process can be to use the 'popcorn' approach, where the last person to answer the question selects the next teammate to answer.
The ‘popcorn’ approach is a double-edged sword, however — it makes the meeting more democratic, with each team member selecting their successor, but it can also make people feel awkward if they are unfamiliar with one another. For new teams, we recommend having a facilitator handle the ice breaker discussion.
Group activities can take the form of sharing favorites (like movies, dishes, sports, etc.), or working together on a project. The outcomes of these activities can often form the basis of later team building, like creating a list of everyone’s favorite songs, recipes, or films.
Ice breaker games
Gamifying ice breakers adds a competitive aspect to the exercise, which can be good or bad depending on the context or the team. When using a game as an ice breaker, it can also be helpful to create teams within your meeting to allow colleagues to collaborate in order to win.
Why should I use an ice breaker?
While many people may find them cheesy, the data are pretty clear — giving people an opportunity to get to know one another at the outset of a project or meeting has measurable benefits when the real work begins. Not only do they help develop psychological safety (that is, the feeling that you can be honest about your feedback in a work setting without fear of repercussions, helping to avoid groupthink and develop better ideas), just telling an embarrassing story can meaningfully increase team creativity.
Ice breaker questions for small groups
If you’re just establishing your new group, you can lay the foundation for great working relationships with a few simple steps. Below are some ice breaker examples that help teammates learn about one another and build ways of working together.
1. What is a hobby or activity that you currently enjoy outside of work?
Not exactly revolutionary, but it does give people a quick way to introduce themselves and talk about a subject that’s of interest to them. Do you have a lot of outdoorsy types or travelers on your team? How many people started baking bread during the pandemic? Any passionate gardeners? Discovering a common interest can be a great way to build team chemistry.
2. What TV show or movie did you love as a kid?
People love to reminisce — and it’s great for team building. The only risk here is if people are sensitive about age (this being a window into what was popular when they were younger), so use your discretion. (All I know is that anytime I have the opportunity to talk about Hey Dude, I’m on board.)
3. What’s your go-to happy hour drink?
Have each person introduce themselves, and then offer their pick for best happy hour drink (non-alcoholic beverages welcome). This could also be a good way to set up a team happy hour or virtual meetup at a later time.
4. If there were a movie about your life, who would you want to play you in the film, and why?
A little on the cheesy side, yes, but this is a good way to get a sense for what kind of films your team enjoys, and, like the above question about favorite films from childhood, could form the basis for a watch party celebration together at a later date.
Activities to break the ice can be great for setting the tone in a meeting, and also create more opportunities for team building down the line.
5. Share one of your favorite songs that makes you feel motivated and energized
This is a great way to break the ice, since it has the double benefit of creating a team playlist at the same time. Collect all the feedback and build a Spotify playlist that can be shared after the fact.
6. Draw your neighbor
Put 5 minutes on the timer, and have everyone work on a sketch of their ‘neighbor’ (when in a hybrid or remote environment, you may need to assign people more specifically). Then, you can see if you have any Picassos hiding in your midst.
Have each person introduce themselves and share one thing they like about where they live. It might sound simple, but it’s one of the most important and useful ways to connect with teammates — establishing time zone differences, language barriers or connections, and ways of working together. Also, you can use this handy world map template to get started.
8. Share a fun phrase or saying in your native language (or another language you speak) — what does it mean literally and what does it mean figuratively?
With remote and hybrid work environments becoming more prevalent, there are more opportunities to learn about different cultures and societies through teammates and colleagues. “Six of one, a half-dozen of the other” is just one of a host of quirky phrases that go back generations and are taken for granted today here in the United States, but does it translate? Idioms and phrases like this offer interesting insights into local culture, as well as opportunities to find similarities and connections.
Ice breakers games for small groups
Adding a touch of competition can be the perfect way to engage and energize your group — and if you really want to up the ante, a little swag can go a long way.
9. Two truths and a lie
Have everyone in your meeting share two things about themselves that are true, and one thing that is a lie. Then have the rest of the team try to guess which is the lie. (If you’re using Mural, you can use anonymous voting to avoid people influencing the rest of the group as they submit their guesses.) This is a popular and familiar game that encourages teammates to learn more about each other, while having fun guessing. Who has the best poker face?
10. Rock, paper, scissors tournament
This can work even in hybrid or fully remote sessions, as long as everyone has good enough wifi and video fidelity.
How it works: The meeting facilitator assigns the groups of two for the first round of the tournament. Each group of two competes in a best-of-three rock, paper, scissors battle. Then, the winners play one another until there is only one overall champion.
11. Name that song
Play a short clip of a song and have everyone guess what it is — the first to submit the correct answer gets the crown. To prepare, choose three to five songs that you think have a good chance people will know (and to add intrigue, make the list in increasing order of difficulty).
12. Terrible joke contest
What's the worst (work appropriate) joke you've ever heard? Have everyone submit their most cringe-worthy jokes, and then vote to crown the worst joke winner... if that’s what we’re going to call it.
Go forth and prosper
As we’ve established, ice breakers (while they may feel cheesy at times) are demonstrably effective at producing better, more productive, and more creative meetings — and ultimately more connected teams.