All great workshops and meetings start with a good icebreaker. You can’t just put a bunch of people in a room and expect them to be creative—you have to warm them up first.
So, when planning your next workshop, be sure to have an icebreaker or two at the ready. In this guide, you’ll find our 6 favorite icebreakers, together with instructions on how to implement them.
- My First Job
- One Word
- Pointless Questions
- Guess Who?
- Four Quadrants
And, because it’s 2022, all of these icebreakers can be adapted for remote and hybrid workshops, too.
Before we jump in, let’s quickly touch on why icebreakers are so important…
What are icebreakers and why do you need them?
Icebreakers are quick, fun activities used at the start of a workshop or meeting to warm up the members of the group. Their purpose is, quite literally, to break the ice—to help people feel comfortable and relieve some of that initial awkwardness that’s often felt in workshop settings.
Kicking off your meeting or workshop with an icebreaker will help to set a relaxed tone for the session. It encourages the group to have a bit of fun and reassures them that the workshop is a safe and comfortable space. That’s the optimal setting for creativity and collaboration!
The great thing about icebreakers is that they require little effort but offer a lot of reward.
So what are the best icebreakers for your in-person, remote, and hybrid workshops or meetings? Here are our top 6.
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Icebreaker #1: My First Job
The first icebreaker on our list is a personal favorite of AJ&Smart CEO Jonathan Courtney. It’s simple yet effective, as any good icebreaker should be, and doesn’t take any time or effort to set up.
How it works:
Ask everyone in the group to write down their name, their first job, and what they learned from that job. Then go round the group and have everybody read theirs out.
This is a chance for the group to learn something new about each other without getting too uncomfortably personal. It’s also a great warm-up as it doesn’t require too much thinking straight off the bat.
If you want to add a bit of mystery to the ‘My First Job’ icebreaker, have everybody write down only their first job and what they learned from it (leaving out their name) and put their answers into a hat (or on an anonymous virtual Post-it note if you’re running a remote or hybrid meeting). Then have the rest of the group guess which first job belongs to which member of the group.
Icebreaker #2: One Word
This next icebreaker is great if you want to warm people up but also set some context for the meeting or workshop. The goal of the One Word game is to ease your workshop participants into your workshop topic in a lighthearted, low-pressure way.
How it works:
Divide the group into smaller groups or pairs, depending on how many participants you have. If you’re holding a remote meeting, you might want to set up breakout rooms for each group. Ask each group to come up with one word that describes a certain topic, as defined by you.
For example, if the goal of the workshop is to come up with new ways to improve the customer service process, you might ask the group to come up with a word to describe the current process. If you’re holding a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a new marketing campaign, you could ask the group to come up with a word to describe what they think the main goal of the next campaign should be.
Set a timer (2 minutes should suffice) and then ask each group to share their word. You can write each word on a whiteboard (either physical or digital) so you have a visual compilation of everybody’s ideas at the end.
The purpose of this icebreaker isn’t necessarily to come up with actionable ideas, but rather, to get people thinking about the topic ahead of the main workshop activities.
Icebreaker #3: Pointless Questions
We call this one Pointless Questions simply because the questions (and their answers) bear no relation to the workshop topic. But this icebreaker itself is not pointless! Far from it. By asking fun, non-work-related questions, you’ll ease the group into natural conversation—and prime them for creative thinking.
How it works:
Prepare a few fun questions ahead of the workshop, then go round the room and have everybody take turns answering the questions. It’s as simple as that—you don’t even need to write anything down!
Tips for coming up with icebreaker questions:
Keep your icebreaker questions lighthearted and inclusive. Make sure they’re questions that everybody can answer—steer clear of topics that are too specific or which might not be relevant to everybody, such as certain TV shows or music genres. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- If you could invite a celebrity over for dinner, who would it be and why?
- What is your most prized possession and why?
- You can have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life. What do you choose?
For more inspiration, check out this list of over 200 icebreaker questions.
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Icebreaker #4: Guess Who?
This is another getting-to-know-each-other icebreaker that will facilitate natural conversation (and probably a few laughs). All you need is pen and paper for each workshop participant (or digital sticky notes and a virtual whiteboard, if you’re holding the meeting remotely).
How it works:
Ask each member of the group to write down a random fact about themselves—something that others in the group are unlikely to know already. Collect all the random facts in a hat (or on a virtual whiteboard) and read each one aloud. The group then has to decide who they think the fact relates to. Once all votes are in, ask the ‘owner’ of the fact to come forward and elaborate in more detail if they feel comfortable doing so.
This is a great team-building icebreaker as it encourages people to reveal something new about themselves. It can spark conversations, bring people closer together, and foster empathy within a group.
Icebreaker #5: Pictionary
Pictionary isn’t just for games night! It also serves as an excellent icebreaker for meetings and workshops. All you need for this icebreaker is pencil and paper for each participant. If you’re holding a remote workshop, ask them to have their own at the ready.
How it works:
For each round of Pictionary, pick a name out of a hat to determine the designated sketcher. Give them a Pictionary prompt (you can use this Pictionary generator) and allocate 1 minute for them to draw the word. The group then has to guess the word based on the sketcher’s drawing. You can speed this part up and make it more fun by setting another timer.
We love Pictionary as an icebreaker because it gets the creative juices flowing. And, as it’s a party game that most people are familiar with, it’s a great way to get people feeling relaxed.
Icebreaker #6: Four Quadrants
Our final icebreaker is the Four Quadrants exercise, and it’s especially useful because it can be adapted to a range of different contexts and needs. As such, the Four Quadrants will require a little more thought and planning on the workshop facilitator’s part—but it’s well worth it!
How it works:
Give each participant a pen and paper and have them draw a 2x2 grid (alternatively, you can provide ready-made grids). You’ll ask four questions, and each participant will draw their answer, using one quadrant per question. At the end, participants will present and discuss what they’ve drawn.
You can use the Four Quadrants as a just-for-fun icebreaker, asking random questions, or use it as an opportunity to introduce the topic of the workshop. For example, you could focus the questions around the current challenges that people are facing at work and what they’d like to achieve from the workshop.
However you choose to frame it, the Four Quadrants icebreaker is great for getting a bit creative and approaching potentially serious topics in a more lighthearted way.
What else do you need for an awesome meeting or workshop?
Icebreakers are just one component of a great workshop or meeting. You’ll also need a solid workshop agenda (we show you how to write one in this guide) and the right set of tools (start with this round-up of the best digital facilitation tools for online workshops and meetings).
And, of course, you’ll need first-class facilitation skills and techniques you can adapt throughout the workshop or meeting. If you’re new to facilitation, or want to improve your existing skills, consult our ultimate guide to workshop facilitation and explore our training courses.