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Icebreakers are short group activities that allow the various people inside a new group:
to get to know each other;
to become more comfortable with discussing the topic of groupwork; or
to become more comfortable with expressing dissenting views.
When to use
Use icebreakers at the start of a group activity to engage them to get to know each other and establish relationships for the rest of the gathering. Icebreakers can also be used if a group of people who know each other well feel embarrassed because they have to tackle a difficult or new subject together.
Marc Steinlin posted an important strategic message about Icebreakers on the KM4Dev list in October, 2008 and wrote " "I think it's important that you consider carefully, what you want to create as foundation of the workshop to come. In my experience - and that of others - you have the first 30-60 minutes to establish a "culture" and set the tone for the entire rest of the workshop. Ie. if you want people to carefully listen to each other, you have to make them doing that in the beginning. If you want them to interact and create networks of relationships, they should have a first opportunity to do so. This is why conventional openings with key notes are so detrimental - they immediately create a climate of talking heads, disengagement, boredom - and afterwards organisers are surprised if participants don't listen, don't participate, don't engage..."
How to use
The facilitator invites all the participants to take part in the icebreaker. Depending on the method, there are different ways of using icebreakers.
Ball around the world
Find somebody who...
Just three words
My wish for today
One fact about yourself
Who Am I?
Tips and Lessons Learnt
The facilitator should keep time so that the icebreaker does not eat too much of the time set for the meeting itself but also allow enough time for the participants to get to know each other and interact until they feel comfortable with one another. Thirty minutes of ice-breaking is a good start.
Examples & Stories
From KM4Dev Discussions:
Marc Steinlin: "Today I have just opened the Inter-agency Conference on Local Economic Development. We have right away started with a World Café - no introduction, no welcome, no explanations - it clearly signalled that this is the participants' event, that they are important and they should hold conversations and share. Only after 2 hours, we did the formal opening."
Lucie Lamoureux: On the tagging icebreaker - "I've also been using it a fair bit and people seem to like it a lot. The way I usually do it is to first ask people to write down a keyword on their name tag that describes them in a professional setting (e.g. "meticulous", "hard-working", etc.). They then have to walk around and read what other people wrote down, then try to cluster around those they feel a certain kinship or sense of belonging to. Then you ask these "clusters" to give themselves a new name or keyword, basically what they collectively represent. Then, I usually repeat the same exercise with one keyword that describes them in a personal setting (e.g. "fun-loving", "mother", "movies", etc.) and do the same again. Note: you can do this with a pretty big group, I've done it with up to 50 people. It's fun and a bit chaotic, it gets people to move around, to look at name tags, to start talking to people and to find commonalities, which always helps when trying to build "togetherness", as you mentioned."
Ernst Bollinger: "Storytelling is a nice method to get people involved at the same time with each other and with the topic of the workshop. In the Story telling guide, the approach with the jumpstart story is explained (page 28). Have a look at it. It should be something you are not yet fed up.
Jaap Pels: "Once I had the pleasure to work in India.For the first session our Indian partner prepared little papers with titles of Bollywood songs; two of each. People had to choose a song and find their partner by both singing the evergreen. That was fun, but your participants might like the ' river of life' approach, see
; people make a drawing about their life along a river and tell about it."
Chris Watkins: "I've seen some interesting exercises in "unconference" environments. E.g. at the "Open Everything retreat" they asked us to put ourselves on a line to describe how much we our organizations practice "open", and then to put ourselves on a graph representing how much we practice open in our personal lives (on one axis) and our work environment (on the other).At BarCampAfrica, everyone was seated like a conventional audience, but we were asked to stand up if we were from Africa or had ever been to Africa, and then to stand up if we had come from outside the state for the event. (I was surprised how many had been to Africa - it gave me quite a different feeling about the event.) The aim of these (I was told by someone who helps run such events) was to do something that will create a visceral impression of who's in the room, and it was certainly helpful for that. He gave another example: Pick 3 different reasons people might be there (e.g. funding, philanthropy... something else) and have participants align themselves physically in a triangle, with their distance/closeness to each corner representing the relative priorities."
Carl Jackson: "For the icebreaker for twenty I have the Alphabet Business Card Mixer – you have 10 mins to exchange cards with everyone in the room, but you must collect them in alphabetical order of first names starting with the letter after your first name (so as Carl I have to start collecting from D and work round to B) – lots of chaos and impromptu KS, plus we all have each others details for future reference. Need to tell people before hand to bring 20 cards with them and have some blank card available for those without to make their own the night before."
Mustapha Malki: "I understand your concern and would suggest People Bingo, an icebreaker based on the famous game of Bingo which will give access to people to know each other in a very "ludique" way. However it needs to inventory some of the hobbies and other data from the participants ahead of the start of the workshop so that you can prepare the matrix of the Bingo game (5 x 5 matrix as in the game). And the first who fills a diagonal, line or row will scream "Bingo". The facilitator will have to check the truth of the information of the successful bingo by asking the person concerned about the cell ticked by the winner to confirm the information.I applied this tool 2-3 times and it turned quite an exciting one (being an icebreaker, an energiser, and a relaxing game at the same time.)"
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Related Methods / Tools / Practices
10 Online Icebreakers
Games & Exercises VIPP Unicef
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