How Ice Breaker Games Are Used In Business

By: Michiel Van Kets

Breaking the metaphorical ice using icebreaker games is the perfect way to facilitate individuals to overcome the discomfort or awkwardness that may come with meeting and getting to know distant colleagues or strangers. This discomfort may be amplified in large group situations and as such, need diffusing. Games that serve the function of creating a relaxed atmosphere for meeting new people should be simple and inclusive since the game should be easy to engage in. For example, a facilitator can ask participants in the group to share with everyone their name, department or designation, length of employment with the company, along with one little known and interesting fact about themselves. This fact or little known snippet of each individual can serve as an element of commonality or interest for the rest of the group and becomes a sort of humanising feature of the individual which will promote future inter-personal interactions within the group.

An alternative game for introductions that serves the same function of humanising individuals is called two truths and one lie. In this icebreaker game, participants introduce themselves to the rest of the group and make three interesting statements about themselves. Of these statements, two are true and one is untrue. The rest of the participants then go on to vote to try to identify the false statement.

More than just being a tool to create a relaxed atmosphere for easier introductions in large groups, icebreakers can often prove to be crucial in meetings, training or team exercises. These games can effectively help to create an open, energetic and enthusiastic atmosphere conducive for the creation of new ideas or stronger team dynamics. To spark creative energy, for example, an informal and fun game of improvisation may be used. A facilitator brings out five different but common items which all participants are familiar with. These items can be anything from a coffee mug to a soccer ball or a teaspoon. Each item is held up to the group, one at a time and all participants are encouraged to shout out suggestions for alternative uses or associated phrases for these items apart from their obvious, ordinary uses.

Such games can not only set the atmosphere at the beginning of a meeting to generate a more productive and participatory meeting, but can also be used to generally break up the monotony of an otherwise technical meeting or training session. Games do not have to be limited to the start of meetings. For this purpose, a more active and hands-on ice breaker game may be used to revitalise and up the energy level of the group if it is noticeably flagging. A facilitator can arrange all the participants in the group in a circle. He or she then asks each person to throw a ball, such as a tennis or soft ball, to someone else on the other side of the circle while saying their name. After everyone has thrown the ball at least once, the game is repeated. However, with each successive round, the facilitator changes the rules, for example, that each person must receive the ball in the same order as the previous round, or that each person is required to touch the ball with only one hand. Up to three additional balls may be added to the game, depending on the group size.

In addition to aiding with introductions and creating a good atmosphere for business meetings or training sessions, icebreaker games are often used in business settings to establish a sense of the organization, or to build team spirit. A slightly more complex but more engaging ice breaker game for this purpose would be one where a group facilitator begins by passing a ball of yarn to a fellow participant, but keeps hold of one end of the yarn. Each participant then introduces themselves by stating their names and designations in the company. After each introduction, each participant keeps hold of the already unfurled strand of yarn and proceeds to unroll enough to pass the ball on to another participant of their choice in the group. Before passing the ball of yarn however, the participant is to say how he or she might be organizationally dependent on the person they are passing the ball of yarn to. The process is repeated and often, multiple 'strands' or 'webs' of dependencies emerge, until everyone has been introduced. The facilitator then tugs on the starting strand and ask the participants if anyone's hand did not move. The yarn thus becomes a metaphor for the inter-dependencies within the group and indeed, within the company, representing how integral each person is within the interconnected web.

Icebreaker games can therefore be important components enabling a well-conducted business meeting or a productive corporate training session. However, it is important to remember that icebreaker games must be chosen with thought and consideration given as to the aim of the game. Be sure to clarify the objectives of the game and plan in advance so that the game has a clear and cohesive structure and message. A well-chosen game can lighten the mood and enable a productive and inclusive group situation, but a badly chosen icebreaker game can backfire and have the opposite effect, making participants feel uncomfortable.

For facilitators, it is important to keep in mind that icebreaker games should be used to create more conducive and relaxed atmospheres for productive meetings or training. As such, in order to be effective, games should be conducted in a safe environment, should involve activities or conversations which are simple, fun and light but yet interesting and non-offensive. An ice breaker game should never make any participant in the group feel uncomfortable in any way and people should want to participate on their own free will rather than be forced into taking part.

Facilitators should also be able to think on their feet and should be ready to improvise if the need arises. It is always wise to check if participants are interested in the game and if they are having fun. If a particular planned ice breaker game is not working, there should be a back-up plan and alternative games that may better engage the group.

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Michiel Van Kets writes articles about The Stairway Consultancy, a company that has practical experience of working in leadership, customer service, marketing, HR and learning and development functions within world-class service organisations. Established in 1989, The Stairway Consultancy offers ice breakers and energisers, Please Rate this Article


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