Workshop icebreakers – five of the best

Elabor8 Workshop Icebreakers Header

When you’re running a workshop, ‘warming up’ the group is an essential first step.

Whether you’re bringing together an existing team to work on improving effectiveness or running a cross functional strategy session with people who have never met, building trust and encouraging open communication is key to success.   

When they’re planned and executed well, icebreakers are an effective way to kick off an event or reenergise the group after a long break. Successful facilitators also use them to help people get to know each other, build rapport and start thinking creatively.

Keep reading for some of Elabor8’s favourites – and remember the simpler the activity, the easier it will be for your audience to understand and get involved.  

1. One-word-at-a-time story

Workshop Icebreaker: Breaking the ice with a one-word-at-a-time story

This icebreaker is ideal for a room full of people new to agile. It’s also a great starting point to discuss the importance of adapting to changing environments.

  • Start by getting everyone standing in a circle and ask the group for a random topic. It can be anything e.g. foxes, football, robots etc.
  • Hand out a ‘talking stick’ and explain that each person should contribute one word to a story about this topic, but only when they’re holding the stick and before passing it on to the next person.
  • Encourage people to say the first thing that comes to mind – it doesn’t matter if the story makes sense or not (and in fact it’s often better when it doesn’t).
  • It should sound like this: person one “the” (passes stick), person two “robot” (passes stick), person three “realised” (passes stick)…
  • Move around the circle quickly. Once the group finds their rhythm, increase the speed (and the hilarity).

2. Randomised Q&A

Workshop Icebreaker: Randomised questions Laughing shot of Charlotte

When you’re working with cross-functional teams, this is a good one to relieve any tension or uneasiness and help people get to know each other better.  

  • Give everyone an index card and ask them to write down the first non-work related question that pops into their head e.g. “What was your last vacation like?”.
  • Everybody should then pass their card to the person on their right, and answer this question on the back of their new card.
  • Note – you want to encourage people to think differently and have fun with it.
  • At this stage, everyone should be holding an index card with a question on the front and a separate answer on the back.
  • Throw the cards in a bag (or shuffle them) and hand them out again.
  • Start by selecting someone to introduce themselves and to read out the mismatched question and answer that’s written on the card they’re holding.
  • Keep moving through the group like this until everyone has both asked and answered a question.
  • Many of the sequences won’t make any sense at all, but you’re sure to come across some connections that will generate laughter and help to disarm the group.

For example: (question) “How would your friends describe you?”, (answer) “Cocktails on the beach, and sleeping in until noon”.  

3. Two truths and a lie

Workshop Icebreaker: Two truths and a lie

If your group already knows each other fairly well, then this icebreaker helps to motivate creativity. It’s also the most simple to run. Here’s the instructions.

  • Introduce yourself to the group and share three statements about yourself, one of which is not true. Note – you want to make it hard for people to guess.
  • The group then tries to decide which statement is the lie.
  • Reveal the truth, and ask the next person to share their three statements.

4. Name volley

This game can help get your workshop off to a great start, as it allows people to share their name with the group and also improves energy levels.

Round 1 - getting to know each other

Workshop Icebreaker: Name volley Round 1 - getting to know each other
  • With everyone standing in a circle, start by grabbing a ball.
  • Shout your name then throw the ball to someone else in the circle. Note – it’s a good idea to make eye contact so the next person knows the ball’s coming!
  • After catching, that person then shouts their name and throws the ball to someone else.
  • Keep going until everyone in the circle has had an opportunity to say their name.

Round 2 - now for the fun part

  • Instead of saying your own name, call out the name of the person who you’re throwing the ball to.
  • As the group gets comfortable, start introducing more balls into the circle.

5. Sweet incentives

Workshop Icebreaker: Sweet incentives

Here’s an easy way to assign participants into working groups. It also creates a bit of friendly competition as people banter about the relative merits of their confectionary choice.

  • Buy a multipack of snack sized lollies for each group e.g. five workshop teams = five different bags of lollies.
  • Place a photo of one of these lollies on each table.
  • As people arrive, ask them to select a lolly and sit at the table which has the photo of their favourite treat.
  • Start the introductions when everyone is settled (and before the sugar highs kick in).  

I hope you’ve found an icebreaker that’ll work for your next workshop. If you have any other good ones you’d like to share, please tell us in the comments below!

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