A training icebreaker is an activity that occurs at the beginning of a class to introduce the content of the class and to set the expectation of active learner participation. This activity literally breaks the ice to get the training off to a good start.
Here are a couple of examples of icebreakers I have used.
New Employee Orientation
I asked learners to write a little known fact about themselves on an index card and place it in an envelope without showing it to anyone. Each person then blindly drew a card from the envelope. They then had 5 minutes to find and interview the person who had written the card as a prelude to introducing them to the rest of the class. Happy pandemonium ensued for the next 15 minutes. I then reconvened the class and had learners introduce their interviewee. This icebreaker turned out to be a fun and easy way to meet other new employees.
Employee On Boarding Basics for Supervisors
For this class, I used an icebreaker involving Legos™. I divided the class into small groups. I then asked one member of each group to leave the room while I gave the icebreaker directions.
The goal of each group was to build a Lego™ tower that met certain specifications or building codes.
In addition to the directions, I gave each group member a card with specific instructions for how they could contribute to the building of the tower. For example, one person couldn’t talk and another could only touch blue Lego™ pieces. The group members had to keep their individual instructions secret.
I started the activity and gave the groups a few minutes to get their tower underway before inviting the learners waiting outside the room to rejoin their groups.
As you can imagine, these latecomers ended up being completely confused and not contributing very effectively to their group’s ability to achieve its goal.
The debrief of the activity focused on what it felt like to be the odd person out, much like a new employee might feel, and what the detriment was to the overall group of missing out on this person’s full engagement and contribution. It built the case for taking the time and making the effort to properly on board new employees.
Make Sure Your Icebreaker Works
There are several good books chockfull of icebreakers that you can find on www.amazon.com. You can browse through these books or invent an icebreaker of your own.
Here are a few tips for picking an icebreaker and making sure it works:
- Keep it short. An icebreaker should generally run fewer than 20 minutes, including the debrief discussion.
- Connect it. Make sure to connect your icebreaker activity to the content of the course. If you don’t, people may feel like it is a waste of time. Ideally, an icebreaker should generate interest in the course content.
- Make it clear. It is almost impossible to re-group and re-direct a roomful of participants who are doing an activity incorrectly. It also doesn’t inspire confidence if your first activity goes awry. So, hone your directions to make sure they are clear and concise.
- Frame up your debrief questions. You make the connection between what learners experience in the icebreaker and the content of the class during the debrief discussion. So, don’t wing it. Script your questions out ahead of time to make sure they lead people to the logical conclusion of how the two tie together.
- Have fun. Icebreakers should be fun and energizing. Pick something that gets people up and moving and interacting with others. Ideally, an icebreaker should set the stage for active participant engagement throughout the workshop.