A friend will often email or call me and ask for an icebreaker to start their meeting or workshop. I used to get annoyed and go into a long rant about icebreakers and how they can hurt the learning … Perhaps I am maturing, now I ask a couple of questions and share an idea.
Icebreaker Preparation Questions:
- What is the content or point you are hoping to achieve in the meeting or workshop?
- How many people?
- Who are the people, and what do they do?
- How much time do you have in the entire meeting or workshop?
- What is your level of comfort with going off script or dealing with unexpected things that may happen?
I have many experiential opening discussions and activity-based options, and from the questions above, we can figure something out.
A good opening team building and meeting opener that I’ve been using lately is Hopes and Levels. It works well because it:
- keep the choice to participate with the person (autonomy)
- allows for differences of skill and observation, while creating room for discussion (psychological safety)
- shows patterns that the participants and the facilitator can observe and adjust the discussion to better support learning (sense-making)
- gets people standing and meeting new people, having discussions about the content, and learning more about co-workers (team building)
Hopes and Levels Icebreaker
An opening activity or discussion is useful when you can connect it to the content of the meeting. When you do an icebreaker, just for an icebreaker, then make people sit through hours of PowerPoint – you have wasted everyone’s time. And it will be seen as a silly activity you made us do.
Here is how to facilitate Hopes and Levels
- Thank people for being there,
- Ask them to write on a post-it, their response to this question – “what has to happen for you to leave here saying this time was valuable to you?”
- Draw a continuum from 1 -10. Label 10 expert and 1 beginner.
- Ask people to stand and place the post-it on the expert – beginner continuum where they feel they are currently thinking about the learning content or meeting objectives.
- Let them stand and talk for a bit.
- Ask them to speak to someone next to them about what they wrote and placed the post-it.
- Ask them to look for patterns and interesting ideas.
- You ask some questions and look for patterns and interesting clusters of ideas.
- Get on with the workshop or meeting.
- Close the workshop by asking them to move or adjust their original post-it.
- Ask some to share what changes happened. And how they noticed.
Using content, movement, choice, and level questions can help you identify where to focus, the learner to think about, and look for their hopes in learning.