Think icebreakers only apply to meetings with people you don’t know? Think again.
When I first began researching meetings at great companies, I was surprised by how many high-performing teams used an icebreaker during their weekly meetings long after they’d all gotten to know one another. I knew icebreaker questions were useful for workshops and networking events. But, at first, I didn’t understand why these teams kept running icebreakers long after it looked like that ice was thoroughly broken.
Now I know that great teams use icebreakers because the first five minutes of the meeting matter most. When we prepare an icebreaker for a networking event, we call it a conversation starter, and that’s what icebreakers do for teams. The meeting leader asks a simple question that everyone answers, getting everyone actively participating in the conversation right away.
A good icebreaker is an efficient way to accomplish three goals. First, it helps the group transition into the meeting. Once people begin answering the question, that’s the signal for everyone else to put away their phones and tune in. Second, it gets everyone’s voice heard. Everyone in the meeting should be there to actively participate, and that expectation gets set with this first question. Third, a good icebreaker frames the conversation that follows. Questions can be serious, fun, meaningful, or frivolous, all qualities that can be used to enhance the conversations that follow.
The 28 questions below come from teams all over the world that use a single-question icebreaker to set a positive mood and get everyone engaged in the first five minutes of a meeting.
Basic (Safe) Questions
- What’s one thing you hope to accomplish in this meeting?
- What has been the highlight of your day so far?
These questions give everyone an opportunity to clear their mind of other concerns so they can focus on the meeting. Clearing is not about solving problems; it’s just to get those preoccupations out so they can be put aside.
- Please take one minute to share: What’s top of mind for you at work right now? Then take one minute to share: What’s top-of-mind for you on the personal front?
- Let’s take one minute each to clear anything currently on our minds that could make it hard to focus. Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to clear?
- What would it take for you to be fully present in this room?
Questions About Working Together
These questions create insights into each person’s working style and their perspective regarding the task at hand.
- What are you seeking to learn and contribute here today?
- What gifts do you have that could be helpful to this group? And what can the group do that will help you stay engaged?
- Do you think to talk or talk to think? (This is an interesting way to build awareness around the different ways introverts and extroverts engage.)
- How do you prepare when it’s time to do your best focus work?
- If it were up to you, what are your ideal working hours?
- What gives you absolute joy in terms of a hobby or activity–something you do where you get fully absorbed and lose track of time? (This one opens up a conversation about the concept of flow.)
- What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
- What’s one important lesson you’ve learned at work in the past year?
- What has become clear to you about this work since we last met?
- What has been the best team experience for you and why?
Questions for Getting to Know One Another Better
These questions create insights into each person’s background, preferences, culture, and dreams, making it easier to connect as fellow humans.
- If you could pick up a new skill in an instant, what would it be?
- What are you reading right now?
- What was your favorite band in school?
- What do you wish you spent less time doing?
- What is the best compliment you’ve received?
- What is one of the most beautiful places you’ve visited?
- What’s your favorite first meal of the day?
- What do you want to try for the first time in the year ahead?
- Who was one of your heroes growing up?
- What was the first significant thing you bought with your own money?
- Do you collect anything?
- What personal passion project are you working on right now?
- In what ways do you consider yourself fortunate?
Whichever question you choose, you’ll soon know more about the people on your team–both from the answers they give and because they’ll speak up more in meetings. Then you’ll all be able to better appreciate how fortunate you all are to be working together.
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