Done well, an icebreaker can be valuable & strategic.
If the word “icebreaker” conjures up images of toothpicks and marshmallows and other fluffy activities that feel like a waste of time, you’re not alone.
We’re not huge fans of icebreaking without meaning.
But before you throw your ice out with the ice water, consider this. What if you began your team meeting with one strategic question to get your team talking about a topic that really mattered? After all, great meetings accomplish more than the task at hand, they make the team stronger.
Why not give it a try? Pick one question and send it out in advance with your meeting agenda so your introverts have a minute to think. And then open your next meeting with a bit of connected discussion on that topic. You’ll get the team talking about ways to make the team stronger, and as a bonus, you might be surprised how much more smoothly and efficiently the rest of the meeting goes.
Here are a few to get you started.
7 Icebreaker Questions to Start Your Meeting
What one strength do you bring to the team that you wish others would truly see and appreciate?
Why it’s important: Whenever we ask this icebreaker question in one of our training programs, there’s always a lot of emotion behind the answer. People want to be seen for their gifts and the contributions they bring to the team. And almost everyone feels overlooked about something. By asking this question, you give people an opportunity to share something they are proud of. And of course, most of the time, the rest of the team will chime in with some affirmation, “Oh YOU ARE really good at that! Thank you.”
What is the most important thing you are working on this quarter? How can we support your success in this arena?
Why it’s important: Getting your team talking about their MITs is one of the best ways to build alignment and support. This question is particularly useful in teams where there are conflicting priorities. Often team members are reluctant to ask for help because they know “everyone is busy.” Try carving out a little space for teams to ask for the support they need, and watch how quickly people jump in with ideas of how they can help. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that can save a lot of time and get the team working better together.
Who went out of their way to help you this week? What did they do and why was it so helpful?
Why it’s important: There’s a 2-for-1 benefit on this icebreaker. Of course, it’s always good to give people an opportunity to say “thank you.” And, if you send this out in the agenda the week before, no one wants to be the guy at the meeting that’s not mentioned. Chances are the team will be a little extra focused on supporting one another that week. It will feel good to be recognized for it, AND you get more of what you recognize and celebrate, so the cycle continues.
How do you like to be recognized when you do something notable?
Why it’s important: The best recognition is specific, timely and most importantly, meaningful to the receiver. The best way to know how people like to be recognized is to ask. When you ask in front of the team, you give everyone a chance to hear and reinforce the point that celebrating success is everyone’s job and that different people receive encouragement in different ways.
What’s one aspect of your job that really frustrates you. What’s one idea you have for making that easier?
Why it’s important: This is a great way to get your team to eliminate FOSU and shift to a “How can we?” mindset. Everyone’s frustrated about something. Healthy teams talk about what’s not working and work together to find solutions.
What’s your very best idea (or best practice) for improving the customer experience (can also include internal customers)?
Why it’s important: In almost any team we ever work with, there are FANTASTIC best practices taking place and GREAT ideas, that people are just moving too fast to share. If you want your team to share best practices and share their ideas, ask.
BONUS: Click here for more ideas on uncovering your team’s best practices.
What’s one area where you would like more feedback from this team?
Why it’s important: It’s really hard to give your peers unsolicited feedback, and most people don’t. But if you invite people to ask, then the door is open, and team members are more likely to share.
Leave us a comment and share: What ideas do you have for great icebreaker questions to melt frustration and build trust?
And Dear Leader…if work without human-centered practical leadership training is getting a bit too edgy for your liking – or your strategies just aren’t working like you need them to – visit our Live (online or hybrid) Leadership Training page to learn how to build and sustain company-wide change.
Additional Icebreakers and Conversation Starters
Compassionate Conversation Starters: How to Help Your Team Connect More Deeply
How to Start the Decade in Deeper Conversations
6 Habits of Highly Effective Hybrid and Virtual Teams (Team Assessment and Conversation Starter)
Great list, Karin! I especially like the first question. I mean, almost every one of us has (been) asked about “strengths” before, but it doesn’t break the ice at all. It’s like pushing a button that is always harping on the same string.
But with your enhancement of the question, there is so much more substance in it, that should lead to an answer, that is far more interesting. Or even a fruitful conversation. Great stuff!
Thanks so much, Fred! It’s very interesting, the number one answer we hear when we ask that question at conferences or with managers we are training is, “I wish my boss and peers understood how much time I spend developing my people.”
I love this list! There are lots of icebreaker lists out there, but this is one of the only lists I have seen that includes “why it’s important”.
Our Leadership Team has asked one of these questions at the beginning of our meetings for the last few months. Some questions were difficult to answer, some made us laugh, and others generated insightful conversation. The results have been amazing – we learned more about each other, took the opportunity to be vulnerable, been surprised at many answers, and more than anything, we built trust.
Thank you Karin and David!
So glad they were helpful Carrie!