Team building icebreakers are designed to loosen people up in social settings. They are meant to fast-track group familiarity and ease the socialization process in a new environment. In a nutshell, an icebreaker in a group setting gives people the opportunity to engage and get comfortable with one another.
We've all experienced our fair share of great and not-so-great icebreakers, so when it comes to team building icebreakers, remember that not all are created equal. Some require extensive preparation or elaborate building materials. Add in social distancing and varying levels of social comfort, and an icebreaker can become too complicated and fail to help people get acquainted—and reacquainted—with one another.
In general, your team building icebreakers should cater to the majority of employees and be easy to follow and participate in.
Here are some general tips for running a successful reboarding using icebreakers:
- Don’t make participation mandatory. Encourage employees to participate by having activities that are fun and engaging, but don’t insist that they take part. Particularly since people may not be comfortable socializing yet, it’s important to give your employees the option to sit out any activity.
- Consider hosting events over the course of several days. This will make it easier to plan and manage, and employees won’t feel overwhelmed. This also works better if you aren’t going to have all employees coming in on the same days, so that everyone has the opportunity to participate.
- Designate someone or multiple people to host. Having someone that’s responsible for explaining all the activities and keeping track of time will help things run more smoothly.
Host a welcome back lunch
A simple, but effective, team building icebreaker is hosting a lunch for employees to enjoy. There’s no better way to get to people’s hearts than through their stomachs. It’s also a great opportunity to support a local restaurant or catering company and order in some staff favourites.
While everyone’s eating, you can initiate some icebreaker activities or just let everyone casually chat.
Fun and funny questions
This icebreaker is easy to pull off with minimal preparation. With the help of the internet, you'll put together a list of fun and thought-provoking questions for groups to discuss. The preselected questions are meant to facilitate discussion and debate. A few examples:
- If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?
- If you woke up tomorrow as an animal, what animal would you choose to be and why?
- If you could live anywhere on this planet and take everything that you love with you, where would you choose to live?
- Are you sunrise, daylight, twilight, or night? Please share why you picked your time of day.
- If you could choose to stay one age forever, what age would you choose and why?
- If you could be in the movie of your choice, what movie would you choose and what character would you play?
- If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
- If you were a candy bar, which candy bar would you be and why?
- If you were to change your name, what name would you adopt going forward? Why?
The internet (especially Reddit) is full of fun and brain-twisting questions for you to discover. The hardest part is choosing which questions you want to include.
10 things in common
Split everyone into pairs and hand each pair a piece of paper. Each pair is responsible for finding 10 things they have in common with one another. Remember to tell everyone easy cop-outs aren't allowed, like "we both have hands". Once they find 10 things they have in common, they share their discoveries with the group.
Splitting the group into pairs will allow your teams to disperse, so that not everyone is gathered together and people are able to social distance more easily. The point of this icebreaker is to help direct conversations and to find some similarities between you and your partner. You can repeat this a few times to have people chat with someone new.
It’s likely that many of your employees haven’t been into the office in more than a year and half, and that many of them may have gotten hired in that time and never been in it all. A scavenger hunt is a great way to get people orientated with their workplace.
You can divide people into teams or they can play individually. If you have time beforehand, you can come up with clues and hide stuff (such as stickers or candy) around for people to find, or it can just be a free-for-all search.
This activity requires a bit of preparation. Beforehand, send out a request for baby photos from each individual. Have them either scan the photo or simply snap a picture of their baby photo and email it in. Once you've compiled the photos, place them all up on a board, numbering each one.
The game itself is simple. Guess which photo belongs to which employee by writing a name beside the corresponding number. The person who gets the most correct guesses takes home the grand prize—which can be a gift card, some branded merch, or just bragging rights.
First/worst job is a remix of the baby photo icebreaker. Beforehand, have everyone write down their first or worst job. The person leading then reads out each job and the group tries to figure out who had which. Alternatively, this can be simplified even further by simply going around in a circle and sharing what your first or worst job experience was.
This is a great way for employees to get to know one another, but may not work if you have a large team—in which case, consider dividing into smaller groups for activities like this.
This is better than that
This team building icebreaker is a fun spin on the classic deserted island scenario. To prepare, grab about eight random items from around the office. It can be anything from a stapler to a chair. Try your best to pick as many interesting or odd items as you can for more absurd results. Lay out the items and number people off into groups. The goal for this icebreaker is for groups to select the item they'd bring with them to a deserted island to help them survive. After teams deliberate, regroup and allow each team to present which item they chose and why.
Super specific office trivia
Super specific office trivia is designed to test everyone's awareness of their surroundings. The organizer is tasked with coming up with a game of trivia using super specific details about the office and the organization. For example:
- How many company branded coffee mugs do we have in the break room?
- What colour is the sticker on the table in meeting room number 4?
- How many gadgets does the boss have on their desk?
- What year/month did the organization move into the new office?
- How many people work in customer support?
The more specific the questions, the better. The whole idea is for teams to discuss and debate facts about the place they work. Who knows, they might even learn something new.
Team building icebreakers are great at bringing people together and expediting the socialization process. Naturally, there will always be some pushback to icebreakers, so you might as well make yours easy and fun. Your employees are likely both excited and apprehensive about ‘returning to normal’ so allow them to participate at their own comfort level.
P.S. Still not sure what your office reopening should look like? Download our Gradual office reopening checklist: A guide for Canadian employers to learn how you can best support your employees as restrictions lift and workplaces open back up again.