Virtual icebreakers get everybody talking and participating from the very get-go!
Icebreakers are useful for a variety of reasons:
- They create the opportunity for everyone to speak at the start of the meeting. This increases the chances that they will speak up again during the meeting.
- They give you insight into your teammates’ personalities.
- Quite possibly the most important benefit of asking each other personal questions every single week, over time, is that it adds a layer of fun that helps the team bond in a very unique way. Suddenly Bob from engineering is Bob from engineering whose favorite food is pizza, whose favorite smell is the rain and who wants to build a canoe. Things you would never know about someone by just talking business.
One of my favorite virtual icebreakers is taken from Lucid Meetings where you take a picture of your shoes. This can be particularly charming amongst remote workers because it’s something you may never know about your teammate when you only see the upper half of them. Do they wear flip-flops; slippers; go barefoot? When you learn more about your teammate the relationship becomes more personal.
Many people have suggested the Jim and Michele McCarthy for check-in protocol allows the meeting participant to say how he or she is feeling, e.g. “I feel one or more of mad, sad, glad, or afraid.” And then they give an explanation as to why they feel that way.
Other fun and interesting things you can try are personality tests. The Myers & Briggs personality test is fun and interesting to see. There’s also one called the How to Fascinate, which shows what strengths you would market yourself with if you were to market yourself.
For getting to know each other, try the game “Two truths and a lie“: ask everyone on the team to write down two true statement and one false statement and give them to one person. That person then reads out the statements and the team guesses whose they are – and then tries to guess which statement is false.
For quick icebreaker questions, some of my favorites are:
- What was a favorite moment of [insert any time frame]?
- What was your first job?
- What is your favorite food? Drink?
- Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?
- What is your favorite smell?
- Do you have any pets?
- What is your favorite color?
- Show your home on google maps and describe your environment: do you live near the city center? A park? A climbing gym? (courtesy of Morgan Legge)
- What is your favorite movie?
- Do you have a favorite music group, era or album?
- When I dance I look like _______.
- Share a favorite memory that includes food (courtesy of Sarah Baca)
- What is the story of your name? (courtesy of Dr. Clue)
- Take a picture from your window and have people guess where you are.
- What does the weather look like where you are? (pro tip: use pictures for more fun)
- What is your favorite comic strip?
- Create a video tour of your house. Each person on the team creates a short video tour of where they live.
- Try the “Never have I…” game (but remember to keep it PG and work-related ;).
- Share a tour of your hometown via YouTube video (for example, on the Happy Melly team we have people from Regina, Nuland, Espoo, and Colorado Springs).
Although virtual icebreakers can be a lot fun, they’re not appropriate for every meeting. It’s important that you identify your audience first. If the team is new, if you don’t meet that often and in various other situations, they can be a great way to warm up. If it’s a meeting with a new client or if you’re with a group of new people it might be too silly depending on the question.
- Virtual icebreakers should be quick – you are meeting for a reason. It’s not necessary to convey important information in the icebreaker–the point is to get very quick answers that give big insight.
- Make it ok if someone doesn’t want to participate. Allow people to opt out if they want to.
- Be careful of the questions you ask–don’t get too personal. You don’t want people to cry or feel offended.
- Stay positive. Steer clear of questions that have a negative slant to them.
Virtual icebreaker resources
- PlayPrelude – a Collaboration Superpowers favorite (check out the interview). A trust building exercise for virtual teams.
- Dr Clue’s treasure hunts – virtual (and in person) treasure hunts for teams. A Collaboration Superpowers favorite (check out the interview)
- Sign up on the Collaboration Superpowers newsletter to get our “36 Great Tips For Online Meeting Facilitation“
- Tools for remote teams
- Icebreakers for distributed agile teams by Sococo
- virtualicebreakers.com – online icebreakers for your remote team (check out the interview)
- Polleverywhere – Virtual icebreakers for remote teams
- Happy Melly – Virtual Ice, Ice Breakers
- MindTools – Ice Breakers – Easing group contribution
- CareerLark – Icebreakers
- Bridging Distance – Favorite icebreakers
- Unique Team Building Games by Hubstaff
- Meeting Spicer by Dov Tsol
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Welcome to another episode, everyone. This week I want to talk about ice breakers for virtual teams. And the reason why this is on my mind in particular is that in the Happy Melly Slack group, I started a channel called Getting to Know You. And the purpose was just to ask random questions just so that people had a chance to get to know each other online. It seemed like a nice way to do that because you can post questions about what’s your favorite food. And you can also post questions where the answer is a picture, which is really fun.
Years and years ago in college, I belonged to a student group. They started every meeting with an opening question, just a really quick question we just run around. And I really liked it. It seemed like it got the atmosphere going and everybody got a chance to speak. So I brought this practice into a corporate company years later when I first started working. I was working for a big corporate engineering firm. And I had a quite a large team. It was 15 to 25 people. And every week we had to have a status update meeting. So we all crammed into this conference room. And I started the meetings with an opening question. So like I said, the benefit of doing something like this is that you get everybody talking and participating right from the beginning. And somehow, that personal question creates this safe environment for people because you’ve had a little bit of silliness, a little bit of personality before the real status update of the meeting starts. But the real benefit didn’t really occur to me until months later, and that was that because we had been asking each other personal questions every single week, over time, the team really jelled as a team. And it wasn’t just Bob from engineering. It was Bob from engineering whose favorite food was pizza and whose favorite smell was the rain and really was interested in building a canoe. And it really added this layer of fun to the team that helped us jell in a very unique way. So this plus the getting to know you channel really got me thinking about Virtual Ice Breakers and the kinds of things that we can do to open a meeting. Now I will say Virtual Ice Breakers are not appropriate for every meeting. For example, I know that if I were meeting with a new client or a group of new people that I may not start the meeting in that way, it might be too silly depending on the question, of course. So you really have to figure out what’s appropriate.
Also, if your team has been working together for years and years and years and may not be something that you want or need, I mean it might just be that you guys connect and just start talking, also fine. But there are certain circumstances when Virtual Ice Breakers of this kind can be really fun. If the team is new, if you don’t meet that often, various situations, I’m sure you can think of your own.
Now I want to share with you some of my favorite Virtual Ice Breakers. One of them I got from lucidmeetings.com, and that was to take a picture of your shoes. So I think that’s particularly charming with remote workers, of course, because we found when we did it on the Happy Melly team, I was in my slippers, which I practically live in. And Louis had her flip-flops on. So it was just really fun to see.
There are also things like you could take a picture of something on your desk which shows some sort of personality. I learned that Louis has a little altar-like thing where she has special items that have their place. For instance, I have my microphone, my giant, Yeti microphone on my desk. So these are just really fun ways of getting to know each other. Now there is a huge amount of questions that can be asked. And if you look on the Internet for Virtual Ice Breakers. You’re going to just find hundreds of questions. And I wanted to share some of my favorites with you, which is I love to see what was your favorite moment of 2014, for example, or what was your first job. That’s always really interesting. Or where in the world are you? Take a picture or show the view outside your window and have people guess where you are. Or how about tell the story behind your name. Some people may or may not have a story. But maybe they want to be named something else and there’s some sort of story. So that can be really fun. Maybe there’s something like the best advice you’ve ever received or what’s the best thing that happened to you last week, things like that. So those are really fun questions to start out with. The tip that I would give for people is that with these Virtual Ice Breakers, you want them to be quick because you are there for a meeting. You do need to convey important information, obviously. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be meeting. So the important thing about these ice breakers is that they don’t go on and on and on. You really want to just get very quick answers that give you big insight into the other person.
Other things you can try are things like personality tests. The Myers & Briggs personality test, for example, is really fun and interesting to see. And then on the Happy Melly team, we tried one called the How to Fascinate. That one showed how… If you were to market yourself, what would be the strengths of what you would market yourself with? And that was really fun to do too. Just on a personal level even, it was just fun to look at.
So those are some of the basic Virtual Ice Breakers and some fun things that I thought I would share with you. Another tip that I want to add on to this is don’t get too personal. You want to be careful about some of the questions you ask. I had an instance once when I was working in the engineering firm. I asked what I thought was a very innocuous question, and it turned into something where somebody, when they gave the answers, started crying. And I realized like oh, my gosh, this was actually a very personal, deep question or an emotional question. So be careful in that circumstance.
And then as I was browsing the Internet, I also noticed that there were a lot of questions that had a very negative slant to them. And my instinct was to stay away. There are so many lovely questions out there that it’s nice to focus on positive things, up to you, of course. But it was my reaction just to stay away from the negative things.
So those are my tips for the week and my thoughts on Virtual Ice Breakers. If you have any ideas that you would like to share with me or the rest of the audience, please send them to collaborationsuperpowers.com. There are a variety of ways you can get in touch with me. I have all the social media accounts and email, and all that is on the website. A super special shoutout again to our awesome podcast producer Nick, the podcast monster. You can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. And don’t forget to check out his awesome podcast, which is called where there’s smoke. All right, everyone. Until next time, be powerful.