Extraordinary Team Blog

All Teams Need to Break the Ice

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 15, 2008

I should have known better.  I was working with a team of experts from diverse organizations to consider a controversial proposal.  The participants were used to working together in previous meetings, and my client didn’t feel like a “team building” activity was necessary.  They said, “That’s just way too ‘kumbaya’ for these technical experts.”

The reality is, whenever you start a meeting (especially in the morning), people need a warm-up activity to engage the mind and senses and set the tone for lively interaction.

Knowing that all teams need some type of “warm up” activity, but faced with resistance, I planned on putting the group into smaller groups to discuss a work activity.  This would then serve as a team-building activity as well as one of the first agenda items.  Good idea, but it took precious time to get past the preliminary politeness to get agreement on the purpose and process of the meeting.  It became so awkward that my client asked to do a team-building activity to energize the group!

This meeting reinforced a basic team principle:  Always do something to break the ice and build the team.  Even if it is a nonthreatening, simple question that you ask everyone to answer, get your teammates involved right up front.

For example, when teams are first forming, ask each team member to complete one of the following statements.  Assure team members that they can pass if they want as well as ask questions for clarity (not to challenge):

  • The purpose of this team is to …
  • From this team experience, I want to gain/get …
  • To help this team succeed, I bring these strengths to the team …
  • One thing that makes me a good team player is …
  • I am most proud of …
  • My most significant accomplishment is …
  • My main concern about being on this team is …
  • The expertise I bring to this team is …
  • The one thing that frustrates me the most about working in teams is …
  • To achieve our goal, I think the potential hurdles we might face are …
  • My most memorable moment on this team/doing our mission is …

As you listen to the answers, capture the main ideas on a flip chart.  When all have had an opportunity to share, debrief the list by asking, “Are there any common themes?  How does this affect our team’s work?  Is there some action we need to take?”

This simple starting activity gets everyone involved and energized to focus on the team’s work.

Question:  Do you have other ice breakers that you use prior to your team meeting?