Let’s get to know each other better: if you were a trainer, which ice-breaker would you despise most?

How best to break the ice?  Every team day, group meeting, training course, and corporate away day since time immemorial has considered what to do at the start of the day to:

  1. get everyone introduced to one another (whether they are long-time colleagues or complete strangers), and…
  2. get everyone relaxed with one another and warmed up.

Unfortunately, I have the distinct feeling it doesn’t help with either.

She’s crippled with shyness.  WHY ELSE WOULD SHE CHOOSE INVISIBILITY?!!

“Let’s go round the room, tell us your name, your job title and which superpower you’d like to have.”

Here’s the thing: knowing that Maureen from Accounts would choose to be invisible (of course she would – it’s always invisibility) doesn’t really tell me anything meaningful about her.  What am I supposed to infer from this?  Is Maureen a peeping tom?  Or a cat burglar?

It doesn’t relax me and it doesn’t make me more ready to engage with the day.  And never mind me – poor Maureen!  We all know Maureen hates speaking in crowd situations.  She’s crippled with shyness.  WHY ELSE WOULD SHE CHOOSE INVISIBILITY?!!  Look at her – she’s shaking, poor woman.

“Tell us a story about when you got something unexpected.”

And it’s worse at the other end of the scale – the over-confident types who decide this is their opportunity to give their blighted stand-up career a boost by sharing their hilarious anecdote about the time they got given a regular coffee in Pret when they specifically asked for a decaf!  I’m sure you had to be there.

“Tell us something that not very many people know about you.”

Perhaps this is intended to give people a feeling of self-confidence ahead of the day’s activities when they proudly tell the assembled company that, not many people realise this but, I took up trumpet last year and have just passed my Grade 1 exam.  But they find themselves rapidly revising this piece of information when Rupert from HR tells everyone how he spends one week of every year teaching orphans to read in a formerly war-torn country you’ve never heard of.  Way to make us feel bad about ourselves, Rupert.  Instead of revealing a minor accomplishment of which we’re quietly proud, this ice-breaker is routinely hijacked by the Ruperts of this world to share their brilliance with the room and make us all feel a little bit worse as humans.

What’s worse still is that WE ALL KNOW this about Rupert.  He talks of little else.  It’s all over his socials:  #humblebrag.  See also: “Describe your favourite holiday.”

“I’m going to pass this ball to my right and say ‘Fuzzy’.  Joan will then pass it to her right and say ‘Fuzzy’.  At this point, Chris will pass the ball back to Joan and say ‘Duck’, while the rest of us wonder what on earth this is teaching us about teamwork.”

The “let’s play a game to teach us about teamwork” ice-breaker usually fails to be either a game, or to teach us about teamwork.  More usually it serves to confuse, bewilder and make everyone very irritated with Helen from Legal who has once again failed to grasp the rules of the game despite them being explained several times.  Very patiently.

More often than not, too, these games are basically drinking games without the one thing that makes drinking games even vaguely interesting.

“Everyone name one thing they frequently do at work which, if they just didn’t do it, would save a lot of time, for no loss of value.”

Once all 15 people in the room have each spent three minutes explaining why, if they were an ice cream flavour it would be chocolate chip with hundreds and thousands on top*, we’ve lost 45 minutes and not even started the thing that we’ve all left our desks/gardens/PlayStations/families to do today.

When I’m running a training session, I must admit I prefer to jump straight into the content.  That’s what everyone has come here for and I’d hate to waste their time.   Instead, I try to make the sessions themselves engaging and funny.  I like it when it is the subject matter that gets people talking to one another and I throw in activities that will naturally get people working as a group.  I work very hard to make them feel open and welcoming, so people feel they can pitch in with questions whenever they like, no warm-up needed.  I’m sorry if that feels a bit cold.  I’m just not a very good ice-breaker.

Which is your best/worst ice-breaker moment?  Let me know in the comments.

And to talk about courses that are all content and no ice, why not contact us for a chat?

* Because I always like to give everyone a little bit extra! (Kill me now).

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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