Icebreakers you can steal for a better meeting (I promise)

1. When you’re kicking off a workshop or meeting

  • Prompt: “Share your three most-used emojis with the group, and why. Then check your phone for the remainder of the session (in a basket or away in your bag).”
  • Prompt: “Choose the emojis that represent how you’re doing now. Then check your phone for the remainder of the session (in a basket or away in your bag).”
  • Why it works: It gives you a pulse on how people are feeling entering the workshop without asking them to be too vulnerable. It also brings peoples’ awareness into the room and onto the team they’ll be collaborating with. I love the emoji prompt because it’s a straightforward and accessible way for people to express their emotions. Sometimes people share a little, sometimes they share a lot. You might find group members laughing together, or commiserating, or consoling one another. After each group member has shared, kindly ask everyone to put away their technology in a place where it won’t be a distraction during the session (it’s a natural extension of the emoji icebreaker).

2. When you know a lot of idea generation needs to happen

  • Prompt: “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this morning (besides coffee)?”
  • Prompt: “Tell us about something that made you smile this week?”
  • Why it works: If you’re asking folks to get creative and focus on the big picture, it helps to have them approach the exercise from a place of gratitude, abundance and optimism. Why? When’s the last time you felt crabby and creative, or bogged down and exploratory? Starting the activity with a pseudo gratitude practice cultivates positive mindsets, and from there new ideas can grow.

3. When you want to foster camaraderie amongst the team

  • Prompt: “What’s something you own that people would be surprised to know you have?”
  • Prompt: “Tell us about a hobby or collection you have.”
  • Why it works: When you get people talking about themselves it allows them to share something slightly personal without forcing vulnerability, which opens up a space for connection, empathy and humanization. It’s really fun to see teams that have been working together for years reveal something unexpected that everyone gets a kick out of. At a recent workshop, an engineer shared that he loved to paint and had been doing so his whole life. The rest of his team was shocked, and it inspired some really fun conversation and connection. Even this tenured team still had things to learn about one another. For groups of strangers it can be even more important to create an opportunity for participants to get to know one another as people rather than as titles (or with preconceived ideas about each other). When we humanize one another we establish a sense of camaraderie among the group, and that’s key to getting work done.
  • The facilitator should always demo a response to the prompt first. Participants will take your lead and follow your format, which helps manage time and expectations.
  • Call on people to keep things moving along. This will save you from long pauses and your team from the anxiety that comes with deciding when to speak up.
  • Read the room and don’t be afraid to adjust your prompt based on the natural flow of conversation and the vibe of the team. In a recent workshop, a conversation about spare change arose naturally as people settled in. One product owner shared that she kept her change in an old ceramic piggy bank that doubles as a book-end. And, voila, the icebreaker for the day became, “Where do you keep your spare change?”

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