The purpose of a good icebreaker is to help the people attending a meeting or training to connect, get to know one another, build rapport, and break down barriers to communication.  These four easy-to-follow rules will help you transform the beginning of your next meeting or training session into a productive and collaborative learning journey for every participant.

Rule #1:  Connect it to the work.  Time is a priceless resource, and your team might not appreciate having to play to Two Truths and Lie first thing on a busy Monday morning, especially if it’s followed by a heavier conversation about something like budget cuts.  Effective icebreakers engage your participants while still keeping a connection to the work at hand, the theme of the meeting, or the focus of the agenda.

  • “One silver lining of budget cuts will be…”
  • “Other than my own program, the area of our work that I am most interested in is…”
  • “One way my team has been impacted by the staffing shortage is…”
  • “One thing that’s demanding my attention this week is…”

Just because it’s connected to work, doesn’t mean it has to be boring!  If you do want to insert some fun and lightheartedness into your meeting, and you have time to explore topics that go beyond the workplace, here is a great list to spark your creativity.

Rule #2:  Get vulnerable, not personal.  To build trust as a team, everyone needs to get vulnerable from time to time.  Vulnerability requires openness, honesty, and authenticity.  What is not necessary is overly personal confessionals.  Avoid asking your team to get too personal, like asking everyone to share their most embarrassing moment from childhood, and instead ask them to be vulnerable about something that relates to work.

  • “I’m proud to be a part of this team because…”
  • “One way I would like others to support me is…”
  • “Something our team could be better at is…”
  • “Something I’m working to improve is…”

Rule #3:  Keep it quick.  The icebreaker is the appetizer, not the entrée.  Start the icebreaker with “One thing…” or similar language to ensure that as each person shares, they don’t launch into lengthy descriptions or retelling their whole life story!Another option is to offer a time limit for sharing such as, “Let’s each take 30 seconds to answer this question” or “Today’s opener is a flash round so let’s each take just 1 minute to share…”.

  • “One thing I’d like to get out of this meeting today is…”
  • “One of our team’s biggest strengths is…”
  • “Something we should do more often is…”

Rule #4:  Inspire, don’t demand.  First, if you create the icebreaker, you should be the first one to demonstrate it.  It’s your meeting, and you’re the leader, so be sure to set a good example by modeling how you’d like others to participate.  Second, create openings for humorous insight and playfulness, but don’t force people to do or say something that only you think is funny.  Making goofy faces at each other might make you laugh, but for others, simply showing up to the meeting is as much of a performer as they ever want to be.  Use the icebreaker to inspire humor, creative thinking, and even wry insights.

  • “One thing I’d rather be doing than participating in this meeting is…”
  • “One barrier that I am so sick and tired of running into is…”
  • “One goal I’d love to be able to accomplish this month is…”
  • “If our team could ditch one of our responsibilities, I’d choose to ditch…”

Follow these rules to make icebreakers more engaging, more productive, and more creative.  The examples here will get your team talking about the things that truly matter and build deeper connection for everyone.