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Ice-Breakers, Event Openers, And Team Building Activities for Committees, Boards, and Volunteer Staff Meetings

The list of eighteen ice-breakers and event openers is not exhaustive; however, there is nothing on this list that I have not used with great success. All of these are winners.

But one caution, if you haven't read, "The Four Deadly Sins of Leading Ice-Breakers," click here.

The following ice-breakers are organized into three sections:

  1. Community Building Ice-breakers -- Getting to Know You
    • Eight door opening questions (i.e. "In high school . . .")
    • Two truths and a lie
    • My favorite ______
    • What do we have in common
    • Common traits (second version)
    • Hot seat

  2. Event and Meeting Planning Openers (Retreats, Strategic planning, Meetings)
    • "Our organization . . ." opener
    • The check in
    • Cultural analysis before a strategic planning retreat

  3. Team Building Activities
    • Developing team focus -- Stranded in the Desert
    • Building Interdependence

I. Getting to Know You Ice-Breakers

Door Opening Questions

Volunteers often don't really know much about each other. We can help by using a "disclosure" question to break down the masks that people often wear at meetings. When people get to know one another at a more personal level, they have more fun when working.

Have everyone get in groups of about six (if your entire board or volunteer committee is ten or under, you can all stay in one group). Have each one answer one or all of the following questions.

  1. In high school you would most likely find me _________________. Have each person fill in the blank. Many of the answers I have heard are the following:
    • In the bathroom smoking
    • In the dean's office
    • On the stage
    • In the gym
    • In the quad talking
  2. What is the longest you have ever worn your hair? When?
  3. What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?
  4. What was your most prized toy as a child?
  5. If you could have a t-shirt printed with a message, what would it be?
  6. If you were stranded on a desert island . . .
    • What three items would you take with you?
    • What three people would you take with you?
  7. If you discovered that you only had one year to live, what would you do differently?
  8. What one thing that you are not doing, if you would do, would have a great impact on your life?
The answers open the door for follow up questions. Another variation of this ice breaker is to have people write down their answers on a 3x5 card. Collect the cards, shuffle them and then hand them out. Have each person try to guess whose card they have.

Two Truths and a Lie

Have participants say 3 things about themselves - 2 true and 1 lie. Others guess what the lie is.

My Favorite ...

Have everyone write on a piece of paper their answers to these questions: What is your favorite food, animal, TV show, hobby, and color? Sign your name. Don't let anyone else see the answers. The leader then reads the answers to the whole group, and members try to guess whom each set of answers belongs to. Award one point for each right guess. The person with the most points wins a prize.

Common Traits

Give each person a list of 5 to 10 traits that they must find in common with the people around them. Sample items could be: "Find someone that was born in the same month," "... someone who lives in your state," or "...drives the same model of car." A prize is awarded to the participants with the most in common.

What Do We Have in Common?

Have everyone get in groups of three and stand in a circle. Tell them that their assignment for the next two minutes is to find five distinctive things that the three of them have in common. The three things cannot be job related or obvious (all are women). Common items are the following:

All born in the same state

All parents of three boys

All drive a Lexus

Have the first groups that finish sit down. When the two minutes are up, tell the first three groups to introduce themselves and find out what they have in common. I had one group of three men, who had never met each other before, discover that they all had back-packed the same trail in Colorado.

The Hot Seat

Every year I would take our board of directors on a retreat and we would spend a weekend together visioning for the coming year. We always started out Friday evening with a dinner and then an activity like the following:

Everyone sits in a circle and one by one each of us take the hot seat. Sitting in the "hot seat" we had to answer a series a questions asked by another board member. Some of the more memorable questions were:
  1. What were your greatest disappointments in the first third of your life? Second third? Recently?
  2. What was the greatest achievement you experienced before the 12th grade?
  3. What would you do if you won the lottery ($1 million a year for the next 20 years)?
  4. If you could have dinner with any person who has ever lived, who would you choose and why? What questions would you ask that person?
It is impossible to listen to the honest reflections of another board member without being drawn to that person.


II. Event and Meeting Planning Openers

The following openers are used to set the stage for the event or meeting.

Our Organization _________ (Planning-Meeting Opener)

Write the words "agree," "disagree," "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree" on separate pieces of paper and post them on four different walls of the room. Then make a statement such as:
  1. Our organization can change the world.
  2. Our organization has a focused mission.
  3. Our organization is facing a major threat.
  4. Our organization is living in the past.
  5. Our organization stands on the threshold of opportunity.
  6. Our organization is alive and growing.
Have everybody move to the part of the room that matches their opinion. Have the group discuss why they chose their response.

Simple Lead-Ins

Ask participants to state one or two "burning questions" they hope will be answered in this session. Have participants describe one strategy/resource they have used successfully (relevant to the topic of the meeting/training). Have them state their personal definition of the topic (i.e., team, community, mission, a cause).

The Check In

Have each person say, "I am _____ % here today. The rest of me is ______." Let each person talk about where his/her mind is. As a leader you discover how big a job you have to get everyone focused on your meeting agenda.

Strategic Planning Retreat

At the beginning of a strategic planning retreat, I assign (or get a volunteer) a member of the board to prepare a 10 minute presentation on the following three topics. I send the topics out to all board members in advance and ask every one to clip articles from newspapers, journals, and magazines on the topics. After each presentation, I lead a discussion as we develop a picture of the external culture of our organization.

A. The World We Face: The broad environmental analysis. (Assigned topic for group member)
What is going on in the world today
politically?
socially?
economically?
demographically?
culturally?
educationally?
Will tomorrow's environment be different still?
Can you give relevant statistics and information from media and other sources?

B. The World of _____________ (Fill in the blank with what ever your organization represents—i.e. Hospital volunteers, Museums, Churches) (Assigned topic from group member)
What is happening in other like industries?
What can we learn from their strengths and weaknesses?
Who are the competitors in the field? What do we need to know about them?


III. Team Building Activities

Building Interdependence

Objective:

I have used this exercise with fantastic results. It took over two hours with just five executives who were each operating independently. Our goal was to get them to see the need to work interdependently and become a synergistic team. We gained a lot of ground with this exercise.

You will note at the end of the instructions, I say that we will start with the executive director. The E.D. sets the pace for the sharing time.

Copy the following Instructions and hand them out to each participant.

You each have four 5 x 7 cards. Write one name on each of the cards of the other four executive-team members.

On one side write all the things that you appreciate and admire most about this person.

On the other side answer this question:
"If we are to move from where we are today to became a synergistic, interdependent team, what do I need from this person that I am not currently getting?" (In other words, what behaviors must this person change if we are to become a high performance, trusting team?) Be specific.
Take about 20-30 minutes to fill out the cards. Give each one careful thought.

Response:

When you receive your cards, take 20 minutes to read them carefully, and then write a response. As you write your response, think of these questions:
  • Were you surprised by any of the affirmations on the first side of the card?
  • Were you surprised by anything on the second side of the card?
  • Are there any recurring themes?
  • Are all the team members saying the same thing?
  • Does one team member want something totally different than the others?
  • What will it mean for you to provide the things requested by other team members?
  • Are you willing to make these commitments to the team members, for the sake of the team?
Be prepared to read, or present your response to the other team members. We will start with the executive director.