Asking "How is everyone?" at the beginning of every meeting isn't always the best way to encourage connection and team bonding. Sometimes, you need to take it a step further with an ice breaker.
The best ice breakers have the power to strengthen coworker bonds, stimulate better brainstorming sessions, and create an atmosphere of inclusivity. But it's easier said than done, and the wrong ice breaker questions can lead to awkwardness or even increased tension.
To get the most value out of your team bonding moments, we've compiled a list of the best ice breaker games for the workplace. Next time you get together with your team, use one of these games instead of asking "How is everyone", and you're sure to hear some better, more insightful responses than "I'm good."
Icebreaker Examples for Work
One Word Game
Would You Rather
18 & Under
Two Truths and a Lie
Who is it?
This is Better Than That
Choose Your Favorite
Share an Embarrassing Photo
One Word Pulse Check
Ice Breakers for Meetings
1. One Word Game
The One Word ice breaker allows you to provide initial context into a meeting's topic, and get everyone in the right mindset for discussion.
To play, you'll want to divide meeting participants into smaller groups. Then, tell them to think for a minute or two, and then share with their group one word that describes X.
For instance, let's say you're leading a meeting on culture. Tell the groups to describe work culture, or your office culture in particular, in one word. Once they've shared with their groups, you can invite them to share their word with the entire room.
This game encourages everyone to think about a certain topic in smaller groups ahead of time, which could increase participation during the meeting.
2. Pop Quiz
To successfully loosen everyone up and get them in the right mindset for a meeting, you might consider putting a short Pop Quiz on the board.
If your goal is simply to encourage team bonding, your quiz can be more fun -- like, "Match the lyrics with this 80's song". However, you might also use the Pop Quiz as an opportunity to introduce participants' to the meeting's theme.
If you're discussing company changes, for instance, maybe you'll start by quizzing team members on company history facts (i.e. "What year was this company founded?").
As the map fills up with pins, people will learn about how diverse their teammates might be. Allow some time at the end of the meeting for your colleagues to walk up and look more closely at the map.
Quick Ice Breakers
4. Would You Rather
A classic game played at summer camps everywhere, "Would You Rather" is actually an excellent, quick ice breaker for the workplace. Next time you're settling into a meeting or team bonding outing, take turns going around the table and asking each person a "Would You Rather" question.
Here are a few "Would You Rather" questions to get you started:
Would you rather only have summer or winter for the rest of your life?
Would you rather go on a hike or see a movie?
Would you rather never use social media sites and apps again, or never watch another movie or TV show?
Would you rather have a horrible short term memory or a horrible long term memory?
5. 18 & Under
18 & Under is an engaging and unique way to encourage team members to share fun or interesting stories with one another. Before a meeting, simply go around the room, and ask each person to share one accomplishment they had before they turned 18.
Undoubtedly you'll get some of lesser importance, like "I bought a skateboard," but you never know what hidden skills you might discover in your colleagues.
6. Two Truths and a Lie
One of the more classic ice breakers in the list, Two Truths and a Lie can be used anywhere from family parties to company events. To play, you simply ask each person to brainstorm three "facts" about themselves -- two of the facts will be true, and one will be a lie.
For instance, I might say, "I once auditioned for the TV show Zoom. I have three brothers. I ziplined in Switzerland once." Coworkers can take turns guessing which is the lie. (FYI, I have two brothers, not three, so that's the lie. Unfortunately, I did audition for Zoom.)
Two Truths and a Lie is a fun and engaging game, and more importantly, it can help your team learn facts about one another, so they can begin forming deeper bonds.
Ice Breaker Games for Small Groups
7. Fun Questions
Asking fun questions is an easy and effective ice breaker game. To play, simply go around the room and have each person provide an answer to a fun question. The questions are up to you, but if you're stuck, here are a few ideas:
If you're stranded on a desert island and have the option of bringing three items with you, what three items would they be?
If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
What was the first concert you ever went to?
If you could have any celebrity over for dinner, who would it be and why?
These questions serve two purposes -- first, they allow your coworkers to get into a sillier, more creative mindset. Second, they encourage conversation on topics typically reserved for outside the office, which enables members of your team to get to know one another on a deeper level.
Meg Prater, the managing editor of the HubSpot blog, says "When I first started including ice-breaker questions in our weekly team stand-up meetings, the experience was … cringeworthy. It felt like exactly what it was: organized fun. But we kept at it. I listened to feedback and tried to incorporate it into better ice breakers."
She continued, "For example, some folks on our team don’t watch a lot of T.V. and felt a little excluded when we’d fall down a rabbit hole of shows we were binging. Keeping the ice breakers inclusive keeps everyone engaged. Now, our ice-breakers can take 15+ minutes to get through and yield some of our biggest laughs and revelations of the week."
8. Personality Quiz
This ice breaker can promote team bonding, and it's one of the easier options in the list. Simply choose a brief personality quiz on your phone or computer (if you're stuck, here's a list), and pull it up on a projector or send the link to everyone.
Once everyone has completed the personality assessment, have each colleague mention one thing they agree or disagree with in their results. This game allows your team members to gain a new perspective on their peers, and it's also a fun and easy way to get an interesting conversation started.
9. Who is it?
Have everyone write a unique, strange, or unexpected fact about them on a piece of paper. Then, put the pieces of paper into a hat and mix them around. Pull from the hat and read each fact.
Allow the team to try and guess who wrote it. After they guess, ask the employee who wrote the fact to identify themselves and give any further context if necessary. This could be a great way to get to know surprising new things about your teammates.
10. Marshmallow Challenge
Tom Wujec, a business visualization expert, initially presented his Marshmallow Challenge at TED. To play, you simply divide your team into groups of four and give each group 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and a marshmallow. Whichever team can build the tallest structure, wins -- the trick is, the marshmallow must be on top.
There are a few reasons this game works as both a great ice breaker and a team-building exercise. First, the most successful teams are the groups of people who don't spend time competing for power.
The game forces your colleagues to work collaboratively when brainstorming potential solutions. Second, the Marshmallow Challenge encourages people to think quickly and offer alternative solutions when their initial idea fails.
With the Marshmallow Challenge, you can strengthen your team's brainstorming and problem-solving skills, and your team can also have some fun. A win, win.
11. Scavenger Hunt
At HubSpot, we conduct a scavenger hunt for new hires on the first day of their training. It's fun and encourages collaboration, but additionally, it can help employees learn their way around the office.
Fortunately, you can conduct a scavenger hunt for your team even if they've worked at your office for years.
Simply split up your team into groups, and give each group a short list of items to find -- if you work in a smaller space, maybe you can hide some funny items around the office ahead of time. You might even provide incentive for the winning team, like a $50 Amazon gift card.
A scavenger hunt is also an exceptional opportunity for cross-department interaction. Consider reaching out to managers' from other departments, and creating groups of employees who don't often get to work together.
12. No Smiling
This game is simple and meant to energize your team. Get your colleagues in a circle and ask one volunteer to sit or stand in the middle. Tell the volunteer that they can not laugh or smile, regardless of what happens. Then have each other colleague take turns telling the volunteer a work-appropriate joke.
The goal of the volunteer is to hear a joke from every colleague around the circle, while the goal of the other team members is to make the volunteer laugh.
This icebreaker can be helpful in new-employee or management training to lighten the pressure of starting a new job. It can also be helpful as a way of lightening the mood on teams that regularly deal with stressful projects or situations.
13. This is Better Than That
Aside from being a fun team activity, this might be great energizer for sales employees or others that regularly pitch, market, and sell products.
Ask your team to find four to seven items around the office and bring them to one room. These items could be something they use daily, like a pen or a chair. However, you should encourage them to find items that are more odd or unique. This will make the game more challenging.
Line the items up and split the group into sub-teams. Task each team with picking an item they would use to survive if stranded on a desert island.
Tell team members that they cannot pick more than one and must assume it is the only item they will have on that island. Allow the teams time to deliberate and then ask them to present the item they chose and why.
Virtual Icebreakers for Dispersed Teams
14. Choose Your Favorite
For this icebreaker, all you have to do is answer the question about your favorite things. You'll ask your team to choose their favorite movie, song, T.V. show, etc. The question can change every week.
This icebreaker helps your team get to know each other even when they work remotely and can spark conversation on what everyone likes or dislikes.
15. Trivia Game
If you're looking for a remote icebreaker that's more of a game, and less discussion based, you can host a trivia game.
Kahoot is a trivia platform you can use for free (hosts up to 10 people). To get started, all you'll need to do is sign up for a free Kahoot account.
Then, you can choose a featured trivia game to play. To run this remotely, you'll want to share your screen with your team. Everyone will need to have a separate device to use so they can enter the game and submit their answers.
16. Share an Embarrassing Photo
This is one of my favorite icebreakers because it's a fun way to get to know your team. For this game, have everyone bring in an embarrassing photo and tell the story behind it.
Doing this is a great way to build connection remotely. To show the photos, you can have your team members share their screen or send a file to the team leader who will have them pulled up.
To make this more interesting, you can have people guess whose photo it is before your team member shares their story.
17. One Word Pulse Check
For this icebreaker, have everyone on your team go around and share a word or phrase that represents how they feel that day.
Christina Perricone, the HubSpot Website blog and Pillar Page manager, says this is her favorite icebreaker.
"The person sharing gets to decide whether or not to elaborate, and everyone listens without response. The purpose of the exercise is to give people a chance to release and/or reveal emotional setbacks, obstacles, wins, highlights, or anything else that might be impacting how they show up to work that day. It provides a space for participants to bring their entire self to work and it gives the team context for how to support that team member that day," Perricone adds.
Icebreakers can seem cringeworthy, but are actually a great way to build trust within your team. Even if you work remotely, team bonding is an important part of running a productive, effective team.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 11, 2020 3:45:00 PM, updated May 14 2020