Why you need meeting icebreakers
Icebreakers are questions or exercises to help new teams get to know each other better. The idea is that teams that know each other better as people also work together better as team members.
Team bonding can lead to heightened creativity, better project management and increased productivity. Team bonding is all the more important in a world where many team bonding meetings have to be virtual. You might be asking, why do you need meeting icebreakers? Why can’t team members bond in a natural way?
First, it’s helpful to think about what an icebreaker does for actual ice: it breaks it down so that people don’t have to sit around waiting for the weather to warm up and the ice to melt. In the same way, icebreaker questions speed up the process of getting to know each other.
Second, meeting ice breakers can also aid managers in drawing more introverted team members out of their respective shells. Have you ever been in a meeting or a class where one extrovert dominated the entire session? Icebreakers create the opportunity for everyone to participate.
And finally, icebreakers can be fun–if done well. Nobody hates fun, but not all people enjoy icebreakers. There’s a reason for that: Not all icebreakers are created equal, and it’s important to find the ones that work for your team. We’ve picked the 31 best, below.
When and how to use icebreaker questions
Icebreakers are most useful in meetings where people don’t know each other very well. This includes job interviews, cross-team office meetings–especially the virtual ones, which can sometimes feel even more impersonal–and conference or workshop groups. These are the three scenarios we’ll be focusing on in this post.
How do you guarantee that your meeting icebreakers actually work? The short answer is that you can’t. But a good way to increase your chances for success is to lead by example and take the first question. As meeting leader, you have a built-in advantage, because you get to think about your answers in advance. It also helps to remember that it might feel awkward and unnatural at first, but that’s why you have icebreakers in the first place.
Icebreaker questions for interviews
Are you a hiring manager? These questions aren’t meant to replace the actual interview questions. Rather, they’re meant to help the interviewees relax and show a little bit of their personality.
- What is your favorite quotation of all time?
- If you were to donate to one charity, what would it be and why?
- If you had one free hour each day, what would you do?
- What is the best gift ever you ever received?
- You have a time machine. When (and where) would you like to visit first?
- If you didn’t have to work right now, what would you be doing instead?
- How would your best friend describe you?
- How would your enemy describe you?
- If your life were a TV show, what genre would it be?
- If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Icebreaker questions for team meetings
In improv theater, there’s a rule that you don’t say no–you’re supposed to go along with what your scene partner is trying to do. This can apply to a meeting, too. Read the room and do what works.
- What was your first job?
- Are you reading anything interesting right now?
- Have you seen any good movies or shows lately?
- Where was the last place you went for the first time?
- Do you have a favorite breakfast cereal? Follow-up question: milk first, or cereal first?
- If this is wrong, I don’t want to be right: Favorite weird (but brilliant) food combo?
- Would you rather be able to fly or turn invisible?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world today, where would you go?
- Which one fictional place would you most like to visit?
- People–not us, but other people–say the “days are long but the years are short.” When does time seem to crawl by at a snail’s pace?
- Bonus question: When does time pass by way too quickly?
Icebreaker questions for small group meetings
Have you ever attended a conference or workshop? You’re put into a small group and expected to work with some dude from some company you’ve never heard of. Ring any bells? If so, this last section is for you.
- Have you ever met anyone famous?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
- What’s the first thing you remember buying with your own money?
- Who was most influential in your life as a kid?
- If you could only use one piece of technology, what would it be?
- What is your favorite hobby or pastime?
- If you were to host your own talk show, who would be your first guest?
- What is your useless superpower?
- How many cities have you lived in during your life and which is your favorite?
- Elon Musk tells you he’ll give you a million dollars for your great new startup idea. What is it?
Use these meeting icebreakers responsibly (and successfully)
You might find that some of these questions can be repurposed for other types of meetings or other scenarios. Heck, some of them could even work as first date questions–which is kind of the point, since icebreakers are supposed to help people get to know each other better.
For management, it’s also worth noting that these icebreaker sessions should be moderated. If you’re not careful, they can get out of hand–either because your team gets swept up in the excitement, or because of hurt feelings.
For the second problem, it’s important to remember that the whole point of the meeting icebreaker is team bonding. Don’t do anything that would make a team member feel uncomfortable or pressured to participate. It’s fine to riff off our list above and get creative, but avoid anything culturally insensitive or offensive–or potentially illegal.
For the first problem, it might be a good idea to set a time limit for five minutes and stick to it, or even time the first few sessions with Toggl Track to find the best length for your team. Toggl Track is also great for timing individual icebreakers: If an icebreaker session takes up an entire meeting, that’s not a good sign. But if a single question takes up an entire icebreaker session, it might just mean that you’ve asked a great question. Congratulations, the ice has been broken!