An icebreaker is an activity, exercise, or experience designed to break the ‘ice’ that typically limits or inhibits interactions of a group of people who may or may not know each other. A group is exhibiting “ice” if there is little or no talking, reluctance to make physical contact, and poor eye contact. Additionally, group members stand alone, displaying a lack or initiative and absence of trust.

To qualify as an icebreaker, an activity, exercise, or experience should have most of the following criteria:

  • An icebreaker should be fun.
  • An icebreaker should be non-threatening.
  • An icebreaker should be highly interactive.
  • An icebreaker should be simple & easy to understand.
  • An icebreaker should be success-oriented.

An effective icebreaker is an activity, exercise, or experience that successfully prepares a group for what is ahead. For an effective icebreaker, you need:

  • A comfortable location and a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Participants in comfortable clothing, if possible.
  • An excellent leader or facilitator familiar with the icebreaker.
  • Clear, concise, relatively easy-to-follow directions.

The facilitator or leader plays an important role in the success of an icebreaker game or activity. Explanations must be given clearly and group progress directed. The same icebreaker activity facilitated in different ways with different groups can (and will) lead to a wide variety of different experiences and outcomes.

Some icebreaker games require large or special spaces, special objects and tools, quietness, or before-game and after-game activities.

Why Use an Ice Breaker?

Icebreakers play a significant role in any event or activity in which communication and participant comfort level are important. Icebreakers help ensure that all attendees are equal participants by breaking down barriers that exist in the workplace inherently and by design. Some reasons for using an icebreaker are:

  • Icebreakers help participants know each other.
  • Icebreakers warm participants up and get discussions flowing comfortably.
  • Icebreakers help participants who know each other and work in different areas or departments bear the ice that can occur when individuals do not want to share information.
  • Icebreakers help participants who know each other but have different job titles and levels within an organization’s chain of command break down the barriers that might inhibit honest, comfortable communication.
  • Icebreakers help participants who are strangers make introductions and start communicating and sharing thoughts in a comfortable, simple way.
  • Icebreakers help participants who do not know each other but share a mission, an interest, or an idea and have a lot in common warm up prior to a more serious discussion of the topic.
  • Icebreakers help participants who are diverse – various ages and ethnic groups; profit and nonprofit organizations; job titles within their organizations; and other unknown areas of commonality and shared interests – start talking and laugh, thereby increasing the initial level of warmth within the room.

Uses of Icebreakers

Facilitators or leaders use icebreaker games and activities in corporate environments for meetings, presentations, workshops, training seminars, education programs, and corporate training; in schools for students in college, high, middle, elementary and pre-school groups; with sport teams, teacher training, and youth work; and in therapeutic and correctional settings. Team building exercises can be adapted for virtually any setting – indoors or out; any age – young or old; any size group – small, medium, or large; and for use across all cultures. In the corporate environment, icebreaker exercises are used for team building and trust building. In schools, icebreakers introduce students to each other on the first day of school.

Reasons Icebreakers Are Effective

  • Getting-to-Know-You icebreakers enable relative strangers to work together as a team.
  • Icebreakers move students, employees, and others outside of their comfort zones and get them to talk, socialize, and work with others.
  • Icebreakers can be used in a wide variety of age groups, situations and social settings.
  • Team-building icebreakers build efficiency in the workplace.

Types of Icebreakers

There are many different types of icebreakers. Some of the most common are:

Introductory Icebreakers

Many times when people get together, they do not all know one another. Introductory icebreaker games and activities not only help people begin to know each other, but also help them recognize and appreciate differences and similarities. Introductory icebreakers can be as simple as asking each person to tell the group their name and one fact about themselves, or they can be complicated exercises designed to build trust and a desire to work together.

Getting-to-Know-You Icebreakers

Icebreakers are frequently presented in the form of a game to “warm up” a group by helping the members to get to know each other. They often focus on sharing information such as names, personal facts, hobbies, etc. Getting to know you icebreakers also help people who already know each other become more acquainted. The outcomes are often humorous and always interesting.

Team Building Icebreakers

Many icebreaker games are intended to help a group to begin the process of forming themselves into a team or teams. Some teamwork icebreakers, such as building activities, aid group dynamics by building trust, communication, and the ability to work together. Two examples follow:

  • Teams build containers to keep a raw egg intact when dropped from the top of a ladder.
  • Teams build tape and newspaper bridges designed to support a team member for one minutes.

Team building icebreakers improve group dynamics by increasing participants’ enthusiasm and energy. Team building icebreakers are often stimulating problem-solving tasks designed to help group members develop their capacity to work effectively together. Some team building icebreakers are simply fun games and others are complex tasks designed for specific reasons.

Party (Fun) Icebreakers

No one likes walking into a party where few people are familiar. For a party to be exciting, guests need to be put at ease. Party icebreakers serve this purpose, introducing guests to one another. Use icebreakers that are simple and entertaining to coax people to converse and laugh. This sets the right mood for the rest of the party.

Icebreaker Questions

As the name implies, icebreaker questions simply illicit information from people in an effort to get them comfortable and relaxed. Icebreaker questions can be serious or funny. The best icebreaker questions are designed specifically for an identified age and purpose and prepare people for activities or experiences that follow.

The Psychology of Icebreakers

Icebreakers are also known as group-dynamic games. Icebreakers are complex group dynamic games from an interpersonal relationships point of view because they involve:

  • Relationships between two people
  • Relationships between a person and a group
  • Relationships between groups