Staff meeting icebreaker
May 29, 2014 8:43 AM   Subscribe

I am facilitating our staff meeting today. At the beginning of our staff meeting, we always do an icebreaker. I'm terrible at thinking of these. We have a team of 6 people, pretty informal office, sitting all around a big table, about 10 minutes. What are your icebreaker ideas for something fun, informative and not-too-personal? Thanks!
posted by rabu to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
At 10 minutes with 6 people, assuming an average employee cost of $100/hour (fully burdened rate to the employer), that "ice breaker" cost $100.

Take $100 and cater lunch for the staff meeting instead of the ice breaker. It would be more appreciated by the employees, and it would allow multitasking during the meeting.

If your employer balks at spending the money, then they obviously do not value your time and you should point out that the icebreaker costs an equivalent amount of money. At that point, you should quit the ice breaker.
posted by saeculorum at 8:50 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did one recently that worked well, but it takes some notice. Everyone brings 10 random objects, you set a 10 minute timer, and without speaking you collaborate on building something on the conference table. It ends up being pretty fun overall, way better than "2 truths and a lie" because no one has to say anything, but it's still social, and you can talk about it afterwards.
posted by taromsn at 8:51 AM on May 29, 2014

Response by poster: I thought the point of AskMeFi was to answer the question, not to talk the OP out of the question? I've been assigned an icebreaker as the facilitator... so I'm gonna bring a damn good icebreaker to the meeting.
posted by rabu at 8:53 AM on May 29, 2014 [18 favorites]

I question why you still need an "icebreaker" for a regular meeting of only six people who all presumably know each other, and thus there is no ice to break.

But just in case - the one time I did speed dating, I hit upon the idea to ask everyone the question "what did you have for lunch yesterday", which took an interesting amount of thought and recall for everyone, and was surprisingly good at yielding insight into people.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:54 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: please just answer the question folks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:55 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since nobody else seems to want to answer your question, here's one I've used: Everybody writes down three facts about themselves, but two of them have to be made up. Go around and have people try to guess which one is correct.

(A lot of the fun comes from asking people to come up with two fake facts about themselves.)
posted by jbickers at 8:56 AM on May 29, 2014

"Without speaking or writing, arrange yourselves in order of your birthdays, from January 1 to December 31."
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:57 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was recently at a conference and at lunch one of the people at my table asked everyone to say 1. what their favorite breakfast food is and 2. if they could be any animal in the world, what animal would they be and why. They were both fun questions to answer yet you didn't really have to reveal anything too personal about yourself.

My answers: 1. french toast, and I described a banana bread french toast I recently enjoyed, and 2. sea turtle because they are super freaking cute, can swim really well (I can't), and I like the idea of being able to hide in a shell.
posted by misskaz at 9:03 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

See my question about brain teasers. Those went over well.
posted by JanetLand at 9:03 AM on May 29, 2014

My two favourites when facilitating are:

(Less personal) Everyone goes around the table and tells the group about something that's delighted them (doesn't have to be work-related) in the last two weeks.

(More personal) Everyone goes around the table and says something they admire about the person to the right of them.
posted by terretu at 9:07 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ice breaker a jury foreman used once during down time - "where were you when the space shuttle exploded?" even with a wide range of ages, we all knew.

any noteworthly event could be used - a less grim one if necessary.
posted by domino at 9:13 AM on May 29, 2014

When I finally got to meet all my coworkers in person (a couple of months after I started), we had an all-hands meeting and played "Two Truths and a Lie" with scorecards and a little prize to the person who guessed the most lies.

It was really surprisingly fun.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:20 AM on May 29, 2014

Improv games and exercises are a gold mine for ice breakers.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did madlibs for an ice breaker at a big breakfast meeting (for people to do while they ate), which were pretty successful. I found old essays about our field and took a good paragraph from a handful and worked up up.

We've done penny ones before (talk about the year on the penny) which were kind of a bummer because it made generational gaps really obvious.
posted by kendrak at 9:28 AM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Something I participated in once, which was fun but took a bit of planning, was to ask everyone to submit one unique or interesting fact about themselves then get the group to guess who that would be. Each person then got the chance to talk a bit about themselves.
posted by apcmwh at 9:38 AM on May 29, 2014

Mix the group up if necessary (so they are not sitting next to their bext friend)

Have each person interview the person next to them with a few questions (wrting down the answers) They don't have to be anything specific - just fun questions (they can all be different nothing set).

Reverse the interview so the other person is interviewed.

Then each person introduces the person next to them with the interview questions - basically what they learned from them.

Quick - easy - harmless
posted by MrsMGH at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2014

The leader of a group I was in recently did a good ice breaker - which I usually hate, but thought this was good. They had a bowl of M&Ms, passed it around & told everyone to take some, no restrictions, but not to eat them.

Once everyone had anywhere from one to a handful of candies, they revealed a list of what the colours meant. I don't remember them all, but it could be things like blue = tell us one of your hobbies, orange = tell us a favorite memory, red = what is your favourite food, that kind of thing. Not too personal, and you could even customize it to your workplace, e.g. Tell us how long you have worked here, or tell us what your commute is like.

People who take a lot of candy have to answer a lot of questions, but you can cap it at 2 or 3 if you want. And the bonus is that you have a bowl of candy for everyone to eat for the rest of the meeting.
posted by valleys at 9:51 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I generally dislike icebreakers-but one that I enjoyed and others in my department seemed to like as well involved passing around a basket/cup with slips of paper that contained two words on each slip, such as: ketchup or mustard, beach or mountains, pickles or olives, and on and on. Each person would pick a slip at random and select their favorite of the two options and then explain why. This would generally start up funny banter from those dedicated to the opposite viewpoint: mustard-lovers or beach people.
posted by JennyJupiter at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

One I thought of recently (but haven't used yet):

1. Show a picture of a few My Little Ponys.
2. Explain that each has a unique personality and an associated "cutie mark" on its hindquarters. For example, Pinkie Pie is a comedian and clown, and so her cutie mark is a bunch of balloons. Rainbow Dash is super fast and her cutie mark is all lightning and rainbows.
3. Hand out pens and blank paper.
4. Say, "You are a My Little Pony. What makes you unique? What is your pony name? Draw your cutie mark."
5. Share.
posted by etc. at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2014

I really like "If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be, and why?"

It's goofy, it's fun, and it's easy to keep it impersonal or make it personal based on the preferences of the individual speaking. Sometimes the immediate reaction is "ummm... what???" but if you come prepared to say, for example, that you would be a _____ (eg. toaster, whisk, spatula, fork, kettle (electric or stovetop), etc.) and why, suddenly everyone will get into it.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:17 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I taught undergrads, I always tacked on a couple of extra questions to the standard first-day "Tell me your name, year, and major" stuff. The ones that went over best were "Pirates or ninjas?" and "Name your favorite kitchen utensil." Both can inspire some considerable debate and partisanship.
posted by Rallon at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

You go around the room, say where you are from, and talk about your favorite food that starts with the first letter of your first name.

"Hi I'm Rob, and I'm originally from Philadelphia. My favorite food is Rigatoni because my mom made it a lot when I was a kid, and it makes me think of hearth and home."

You could also get some ideas here. Best of luck, facilitator!
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:19 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd do one quick and dirty, so you can get to the point.

"What's your favorite candy bar?"

For some reason this turns out to be interesting.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:26 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

This one can be fun, but keeping it down to 10 minutes might be a challenge.
posted by duffell at 10:36 AM on May 29, 2014

I've used "tell us about the best 10 seconds of your day so far" with decent success—answers range from serious and thoughtful to random and hilarious.
posted by rebekah at 10:36 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here are some of the icebreaker questions we've used in my team meetings that I particularly liked:

What fictional place would you like to visit?
If you were a superhero, which one would you be and why?
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
What was the worst vacation you've ever been on?
What is a habit of yours?
What do you do when you want to "treat yourself"?
If you could host a talk show, who would be your first guest?

If your workplace tends to go with more structured activities than just everyone answering a question, a more game-like icebreaker I enjoyed doing was "Step with me..." where everyone stands in a circle and says "Step with me if you..." and then says a fact about themself. Whoever else the fact applies to steps in toward the center of the circle. So then you get to see very visually who else likes hiking, has been in a play, is a fan of the same sports team as you, etc.

For everyone wondering why we do this, it's to foster a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in our team. We don't want everyone to be stressed and feel isolated. I can see not liking it if you don't get along with your team and keep a very strict work/social divide, so it depends a lot on personality and workplace culture.
posted by capricorn at 10:41 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask people to introduce themselves and tell the group about the first concert they ever attended (or the first album they ever bought). It's quick and interesting, and nobody resents it because there's no real effort involved.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:40 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a new card game involving binary choices. You must guess the other players' answers to question pairs like
  • Stones or Beatles?
  • Just Eat It or Send It Back?
  • Marx Brothers or Three Stooges?
  • Cats or Dogs?
  • Domestic or International? etc
I use questions like these to get to know new people; maybe something like this can be used as an icebreaker.
posted by Rash at 12:00 PM on May 29, 2014

Split the group into teams of three and have each group come up with as many things that they have in common in the designated timeframe. It can be as simple as "we all hate Justin Bieber", but it is fun, can eat up the time, and it's a good teambuilding exercise.

As an aside - as someone who has struggled with disordered eating, I'd cringe at having to discuss what I ate for lunch the previous day or anything else food related.
posted by Sal and Richard at 12:02 PM on May 29, 2014

People fill out two index cards answering the questions "What is your favorite car?" and "Who would you want to be stuck on a desert island with?". Everyone passes the cards to you, you shuffle and then read the answers one by one. After each card, people try to guess who wrote the answers. Hilarity and new, fun insights into people ensue.
posted by jasper411 at 12:26 PM on May 29, 2014

I'm a librarian, and there was a batch of Card's against Humanity, Library Edition that recently came out. I brought it to our most recent meeting and it was a hit. Google to see if there is a theme that matches your business/company/product? This may not go over well with a conservative group.
posted by saucysault at 12:53 PM on May 29, 2014

We used to do a lot of icebreakers at an old job, and I really liked them. The ones that worked best were simple (questions you could answer in a minute), personal but not personal, and specific enough to allow for interesting stories.

Ones that worked:

A memorable breakfast (and I still remember the story about X's breakfast in Nepal when the clouds broke and she saw Mt. Everest for the first time)

A brush with fame (which led to a great story about a waitress waiting on a chain-smoking Kitty Dukakis)

The last movie you hated (so much more interesting than the last movie you loved!)

Favorite book when you were a little kid

Favorite song/singer in high school (advanced: favorite singer then that you'd be embarrassed to admit now)

Ones that didn't:

Your favorite car / color / animal etc. (rarely leads to anything interesting)

Anything to do with dreams (listening to others talk about their dreams can be excruciatingly boring)

Funniest movie (usually led to conversations along the lines of "the Adam Sandler movie was so funny, omg I laughed so hard, because he's just so funnnny")
posted by kanewai at 2:13 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked for a bunch of years in staff development/training, and those people are hella excited about icebreakers, so I've done a bunch. I really, really dislike having to come up with random facts or stories about myself.

One that I did like:

The facilitator put a sticky note with the name of a famous person on everyone's back. The goal is to guess who your famous person is by asking questions of the other people in the room. You cannot see who is on your back, but you can see who is on everyone else's back.

The time I did it, it was staged in three segments, where in the first segment you could only ask yes or no questions. In the second segment, you could ask open-ended questions, but couldn't ask directly for the name of the person. The final segment (used only if people still cannot guess) is anything-goes questions.

Unless you have a relatively homogenous group, this works best with really, really well-known people.

I liked this because it got people out of their seats and I got to have an animated discussion with someone about something other than me.
posted by jeoc at 6:06 PM on May 29, 2014

I realize it's a little late at this point, but I wanted to chime in anyway. Everyone in my department has a smart phone at this point, so in a recent meeting we went around the room and had everyone tell us what their favorite app was. Not only did I learn things about people, but I also discovered a couple great new apps.
posted by thejanna at 6:05 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

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