Why melt the ice, when there is none?

IMG_0224So please tell me, how many times have you had folk round to dinner and started with an ice-breaker to see who can make a piece of paper travel furthest or to see if they can form human pyramids? Have you had your family round and then paused once everyone arrived and asked them to disclose 2 secrets and a lie about themselves? You just wouldn’t do it would you?

There are scholarly articles on ice-breakers and whole books on ice-breakers but I’d like us to stop and ask, in a training environment,  if they are even necessary most of the time? When you invite guests into your home, most times they should already know each other or at least know you. If not, you can get people to introduce you, or you can introduce people to each other. Same goes for a training session.

These days my preference is to do the following:

  • In the joining instructions get people to fill out a template about themselves
  • When they walk in, introduce people and ask them to put up their introduction on the wall
  • Invite people to add their personal objectives to a flipchart and look at the resources you have brought and any posters. You can even have an activity where they need to find some answers from each other or from the resources
  • Introduce anyone standing around on their own

Ice-breakers can break down barriers, but inappropriate ones can raise them, and you certainly would not stop communication in a group that knows already knows each other or is getting along famously and say “Right, lets do an ice-breaker…”. For some people it might imply that there is something wrong in the group that needs fixing.

So my number one choice of ice-breaker for a reasonable sized group (up to 30?)would be no ice-breaker at all.

If you have set up your training room properly so that it is inviting and non-threatening, have communicated with people beforehand to ensure that they fully understand what they will be doing and why, then the need for any form of ice breaker is debateable. What do you think?


7 thoughts on “Why melt the ice, when there is none?

  1. Zoe says:

    I think it really depends on your audience, having just come off a 2 week graduate induction programme where the feedback was about how engaging the learning was, we regularly used icebreakers/energisers morning and afternoon to keep energy levels high and relevant to learning (i.e. Charades/Pictionary o topics covered). I’m okay with icebreakers as long as we consider the audience and their safety (i.e. not exposing their vulnerabilities, asking too much at this early stage).

    • Sounds like the ice breakers were well chosen Zoe and appropriate. Interesting comment about keeping energy levels high – sometimes it is good to make use of low energy levels for reflection and contemplation. Learners do not always have to be in a high energy state- if they are they can forget the learning but remember the “high”.

  2. Ice breakers have their place and should be treated as a valid tool within the trainers arsenal. Issues occur when they are used as a blanket introduction prescribed as part of the agenda without considering delegates, relationships, emotional intelligence or perceptions. There are no hard and fast rules; creating a conducive atmosphere for learning, rapport and engagement is a skill and just as an artisan uses an appropriate tool to obtain a desired outcome, the skilled trainer does likewise.

  3. It’s something you need to be careful of. I’ve been on courses where the phrase “Let’s start with an ice breaker” made everyone immediately tense up. Not a great place to start from.

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