Should Icebreakers be Used in Business Meetings?
This is one of the beloved cases of “it depends”.
The Benefits of Icebreakers
Icebreakers are activities designed to lighten the mood, help individuals get to know each other, break down barriers, and get people talking to set up a productive conversation. They’re usually performed at the beginning of a meeting or event to jumpstart the engagement of a group of people.
If used effectively, they can be helpful to lighten the mood, make participants feel comfortable, increase the engagement of participants, improve relationships, and even more broadly have a material impact on the company culture. The good news is they also require very little effort and preparation on behalf of the organizer to pull off.
When is it Effective to Use Icebreakers?
Before deciding to use an icebreaker, ask yourself “what’s the ice?”. The ice can be that the participants don’t know each other well, that the meeting requires a high level of participation, or that everyone has a long, full day of events and they need to ease into it with something lighthearted. If there is in fact ice to be broken, then an icebreaker may be a great tool to utilize.
Teams or Individuals That Don’t Often Work Together
Icebreakers are a great tool to bring together different teams or individuals that don’t often commingle and might not know much about each other. Activities can be used to help the group feel more comfortable with each other, build relationships, and learn about things they may have in common. The result may be that everyone is more engaged in the meeting and more comfortable voicing their opinions.
Long Events, Conferences, or Working Sessions
When individuals are about to endure a lengthy day of tiring exercises, presentations, working sessions, etc. icebreakers can be a fun way to give them a boost of energy to get things started. We’ve all suffered through these days before; they can be brutal. Give an icebreaker a shot to lighten and improve participants' moods for these situations.
Meetings That Require High Levels of Participation
Some meetings are one-sided where a single individual does the majority of the talking. Others may require that all meeting members are actively engaged throughout. Think of brand workshops, sales trainings, executive strategy meetings, etc. For these situations where everyone is required to be involved to drive towards the desired outcomes, consider using icebreakers to get everyone geared up to actively participate.
When Should Icebreakers not be Used?
As hinted to earlier, if there is no ice to break then there’s no reason to use an icebreaker. In serious situations, frequent recurring meetings, and meetings where there’s simply no reason to force individuals to perform an activity, icebreakers can be counter productive to the purpose of the meeting. They should NOT be used in these delicate situations.
Meetings With Serious or Heavy Topic
Can you imagine being led through an upbeat icebreaker only to find out moments later that you’re being asked to take a pay cut during the company’s difficult financial times? An icebreaker in this situation feels immature, misplaced, and insensitive to the topic at hand. If you are leading a meeting with serious or heavy topics, an icebreaker is not a good choice.
Client Meetings, Especially Prospect or New Client Meetings
Some customer-facing teams may be intrigued to make their client meetings more fun by using icebreakers. The reality is that your client’s time is extremely valuable and needs to be respected as such. Especially when working with new clients or prospects, icebreakers can be insensitive to your customers’ time and could cause you to lose the deal.
Frequent Recurring Meetings With the Same Participants
If the same group of people is meeting twice a week to discuss routine updates, there is likely no need for icebreakers. The participants are likely to already know each other, be comfortable speaking up, and the goal of the meeting may be to be as efficient as possible. Again, there’s no ice to break in this situation so don’t force it.
Example of Icebreakers to Use in the Appropriate Business Settings
- If you were a condiment in the fridge, which one would you be and why?
- If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
- If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
- Pair up with one other person and find 10 things you have in common. Share with the group afterwards.
- Card House: One person begins the icebreaker with a deck of cards. They introduce themself and use 2 cards to lay the foundation for a card house. Then they pass the deck and the next person introduces themself and adds another card to the house. The goal is for everyone to introduce themselves without the card house collapsing.
- Pair up with a partner and share three statements; two statements are the truth and one statement is a lie. See how many groups correctly identify the lies.
Icebreakers are a fun tool that can bring people closer together under the right circumstances. Our advice is to be considerate of the purpose of the meeting, the relationship of the individuals, and if there is in fact any ice to break. If so, give one of these icebreakers a shot!