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, not all are created equal. Some require extensive preparation or elaborate explanation. Icebreakers that are too complicated may 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 successfully using team building 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. Some activities may simply be outside of an employee’s comfort zone, so it’s important to give them the option to sit out any activity.
- At the same time, make sure that all employees can participate if they want to. Team building icebreakers should be inclusive to all of your employees, so avoid any feats of strength, pop-culture focused trivia, or anything else that may leave people feeling left out.
- Ensure all games and activities are workplace friendly. Atlassian advises “to avoid anything that is too personal or hot-button topics that will foster division instead of cohesion”.
- 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 your workplace is hybrid and employees aren't necessarily in the office on the same days, allowing everyone 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. If you can get multiple people, even better! This will allow hosts to switch off so that they can participate in some of the activities.
Some team building icebreaker ideas can be:
Host a team 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 enjoying their food, you can initiate some icebreaker activities or just let everyone chat casually. If you have a hybrid workplace, consider sending your remote employees a SkipTheDishes or DoorDash gift card.
Fun and funny questions
This icebreaker is easy to pull off with minimal preparation. With the help of the internet, put together a list of fun and thought-provoking questions for groups to discuss. The pre-selected 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 the planet and take everything that you love with you, where would you choose to live?
- If you could see any singer/band play live, who 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 were a candy bar, which candy bar would you be and why?
- If you were to change your name, what name would you pick and why?
The internet (especially Reddit) is full of fun 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 that 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.
The point of this icebreaker is to help direct conversations and to find some similarities between pairs. You can repeat this a few times to have people chat with someone new.
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 just 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.
There are a number of classic icebreaker games that you might consider playing with your team. We've included a few of our favourites below.
Two truths and a lie
The classic party game is a perfect and simple team building icebreaker. Depending on the size of your team, you can either break into small groups or have everyone go and guess together. This can be prepared beforehand with something like a slideshow with everyone's two truths and a lie or be done off the cuff.
Employees will essentially take turns listing three things about themselves, except only two of them are true and one is a lie. The rest of the team has to guess which is the lie. It’s a great way to get to know people better and also see how creative your employees are.
Never have I ever
This is another classic party game that can be reformatted for the workplace. You can start by having employees put three or five fingers up. Then they go around in a circle listing workplace-friendly things they’ve never done before. If other people in the circle have done that thing, they put a finger down.
Once all their fingers are down, a person is out. It’s a great way to see the many different things your employees have and haven’t experienced. Here are some workplace-friendly never-have-I-ever suggestions:
- Never have I ever been skydiving
- Never have I ever traveled outside of North of America
- Never have I ever lived in an apartment
- Never have I ever owned a pet
- Never have I ever eaten sushi
- Never have I ever been to [popular restaurant]
- Never have I ever kept a plant alive
- Never have I ever learned another language
- Never have I ever ran a marathon
- Never have I ever broken a bone
Of course, some of these may spark conversation about where people have traveled, the languages they speak, etc., which is the whole point!
One word story
This game is simple enough to facilitate but can lead to very fun results. As with many of the suggested team building icebreakers, depending on the number of employees at your organization, you can either play with everyone or break into smaller groups.
Go around in a circle and tell a story! Sounds easy, right? The catch is that people say one word at a time. So, going clockwise, person one may say “once,” and the next person could say “upon”, and so on. It’s a fun and creative way to loosen your team up and get ideas flowing.
Team building icebreakers are great at bringing people together and expediting the socialization process. Naturally, there may always be some pushback to icebreakers, so you might as well make yours easy and fun.