Icebreakers to Improve Communication in Your Team

Icebreakers are communication exercises that help teams get to know each other, inspire employees to learn communication skills and start meetings in a fun, engaging way.
 

This article explains why icebreakers are effective, gives nine fun icebreaker exercises to try at your next team meeting (whether your team is in the office or remote) and answers some frequently asked questions.
 

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What are icebreakers?

Icebreakers are exercises that spark discussions so employees can learn more about each other. You can use group icebreaker games when introducing a new person to a team, during meetings or at any work event. There are many icebreaker games that can encourage specific discussion topics or build new skills. Common icebreakers include:

  • Team-building icebreakers
  • Group icebreakers
  • Problem-solving or puzzle icebreakers
  • Meeting or event icebreakers
  • Introductory icebreakers

Depending on the icebreaker you choose and the number of participants, the activity usually lasts anywhere from five to 15 minutes. This amount of time is enough to get participants feeling comfortable (and loosen up nerves) before proceeding to a project or meeting.
 

Why communication icebreakers work

Effective communication is integral in the work environment. Being able to clearly and concisely give direction is just as important as the ability to listen and understand what’s being said. Icebreakers help teach these skills in a fun and engaging way. Here are a few of the key reasons why icebreakers work:
 

1. Improves listening techniques

Active listening takes attention and focus. Icebreakers help teams practice listening and identify where improvements are needed. They also help team leaders understand what their team needs when they communicate.
 
While most minds wander, they can be trained. Icebreakers that strengthen listening techniques set the bar and motivate employees to be better active listeners.
 

2. Strengthens communication skills

Knowing how to convey information concisely and clearly is essential. Icebreakers designed around strengthening communication skills teach employees how to better structure a message, say it concisely and fully understand it.
 

Related: How to Address Poor Communication in the Workplace
 

3. Improves effective feedback skills

Giving and receiving constructive criticism is crucial. Icebreaker exercises intended for bettering feedback skills teach employees how to get the information across in a positive way. These exercises also facilitate a neutral environment where team members feel comfortable and their contribution is needed and appreciated.
 

Icebreakers to try

Here are several icebreaker exercises that can help improve your team’s communication skills:
 

1. Active listening

This icebreaker helps employees practice their active listening skills. It does not require materials and is suitable for any number of participants.
 

Divide your group into pairs. Give them a topic and ask them to tell a story from their own lives, the news or even a novel they’ve read. You can also ask them to speak about a topic in the news, a favorite hobby or a person they admire. Be creative with topics but choose something that will elicit a response from everyone. Ask them to speak for three minutes.
 

When the first person is finished speaking and the three minutes are up, the partner will then recite back what they’ve heard without adding opinions or changing information. The first person will give feedback on how well the listener did. Did they catch all the details? Did they change any part of the story? Have them switch roles for the next part of the exercise.

  1. Fold the paper in half, and then in half again.
  2. Open it to see four squares created by the crease.
  3. Draw a circle to fill the upper left-hand square.
  4. Draw a capital letter A so that it touches the circle on the top and bottom.
  5. Draw a line horizontally through the middle of the circle.
  6. Ask everyone to hold their papers up so the entire team can see.

Now, most of the teammates should show very similar examples, proving the effectiveness of adding specific details to communication.
 

2. Adding details to improve communication

This icebreaker shows employees the value of precise, specific details and how they improve understanding. It requires a piece of blank paper and a pen for each participant. Give the team instructions:

  1. Draw a circle on the paper.
  2. Put the letter “A” inside it.
  3. Draw a line through the circle.
  4. Ask everyone to hold up their papers so the entire team can see.

At this point, you’ll see that the circle with the letter A is different sizes and possibly on different parts of the paper. The line through the circle will also be drawn differently. Now ask everyone to turn their paper over and start again with the following instructions:

  1. Fold the paper in half, and then in half again.
  2. Open it to see four squares created by the crease.
  3. Draw a circle to fill the upper left-hand square.
  4. Draw a capital letter A so that it touches the circle on the top and bottom.
  5. Draw a line horizontally through the middle of the circle.
  6. Ask everyone to hold their papers up so the entire team can see.

Now, most of the teammates should show very similar examples, proving the effectiveness of adding specific details to communication.
 

3. Giving feedback

This icebreaker teaches employees about constructive criticism and how just a few words can change the tone of feedback. It requires paper and a writing instrument for each participant.
 

Divide everyone into groups of two, and have them draw something on the paper. It can be about anything — related to a project or just creative. Give them five minutes to complete it. When they’re done, have each partner say something positive about their drawing followed by some constructive criticism. When they’re giving constructive criticism, have them use the term “but” before they offer their opinions. Then, have them repeat the feedback and replace the “but” with “and.”
 

Example:

  • “This is very accurate, but it could be a bit more penciled in.”
  • “This is very accurate and it could be a bit more penciled in.”

Spend a few minutes discussing as a group how this simple change of words changed the feedback and how they felt receiving each.
 

4. Shining work moments

This game encourages professionals to share three moments in their careers when they were able to produce their best possible work. To initiate this icebreaker, ask participants to think back on their career and identify three of their proudest moments.
 

If you have a lot of participants, separate everyone into groups of four or five. Once participants are in their small groups, ask them to share one shining moment at a time. Make sure to tell participants to listen carefully to find common themes.
 

Once everyone has shared their shining moments, ask participants to share their reactions to the others’ stories. After that, ask them to share common themes they recognized in the stories. It’s important to allow participants to make their own conclusions about the stories.
 

5. Speed meeting

Modeled on the speed dating trend, speed meeting is a fun way for professionals to get to know each other quickly. This communication icebreaker involves moving frequently and constantly changing topics, which minimizes awkward or silent moments.
 

To create a speed meeting session, divide your participants into two groups that face each other. Give participants two minutes per meeting, and ask them to keep the questions light, such as favorite places to travel, pet names or favorite books. Once the two minutes are over, have each person in the first group shift to the right once.
 

Try to find the most spacious room possible for this activity so participants can listen without interruption from others. You’ll need a timer and a buzzer for this game.
 

Related: Team-Building Tips and Activities to Boost Employee Morale and Engagement
 

6. Five of anything

This icebreaker is a good option to get a discussion started before a meeting where everyone needs to participate. The game involves asking participants to mention five things. For example, they could list five favorite countries, five favorite foods or five top movies. They can give a brief explanation of their reasoning for each of their five things. Once they finish, others can ask questions about the choices or make other comments that prompt a discussion.
 

If you have a specific topic for a meeting, you can use five of anything to get employees to focus. For example, if the meeting is about building leadership skills, participants can mention five things that they believe make a leader great. For best results, divide your employees into groups of four or five. This is a way to ensure that participants converse with others they may not know yet.
 

How to use icebreakers in a remote setting

Ice breaker games are great for conference calls if you have a remote workforce (especially during COVID-19). Here are a few way to break the ice virtually:

  • Take a picture of your shoe. This game involves taking a picture of your shoe and uploading it online so the person on the other end of the line can see it before the beginning of the conference call. Besides the picture, add some text. Ask participants to share why they chose the shoe. Is there a curious story behind it?
  • The time machine question. Ask participants to answer the following question: “If you were able to travel through time, in which time period would you go and why?” You can also vary this question by asking, “Who would you meet and why?” or “Would you go for a visit or stay there?”
  • Two lies and a truth. Ask a participant to share two lies and one fact about themselves, then have others guess which one is the fact. You can also have participants share two truths and a lie instead, then have others guess the lie.

Icebreakers are a quick, affordable way to learn more about your employees and create cohesive teams. When you know more about your employees, you can better identify their strengths and weaknesses, making it easier to grow within the company. Coworkers who know more about their colleagues’ perspectives can form collaborative relationships.
 

Many icebreakers can help employees develop good critical-thinking, communication and problem-solving skills. Icebreakers that involve solving puzzles or creating something allow teams to think creatively, which translates well to business-related projects.

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Icebreaker FAQs

What are the possible downsides to icebreakers?

Some people may be uncomfortable sharing personal information about themselves in a work setting. If you’re giving your team icebreaker exercises, ensure you offer options so participants can choose from real life, the news, books, TV, etc. Also, ensure that exercises are sensitive to social, cultural and other concerns.

How long should icebreaker exercises last?

10 to 20 minutes is ideal. The point of icebreakers is to challenge the ways people normally think about communication. But they’re also great for starting meetings, team building and making people receptive to learning. They offer great value quickly.

What type of icebreaker games can you use for work dinners?

There may be less opportunity to have people moving around during a work dinner, but it’s still possible to organize icebreaker games to get people talking. The one-word icebreaker is a game to try. The game involves having participants share one word to describe their mood at that particular moment. This game usually gets positive responses from participants and prompts them to ask more questions about each other’s moods.

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Last updated: Jan 03, 2021