Avoid an icebreaker in a warm climate
If you are working with a forming group, an icebreaker is important. Icebreakers work when the ice is hard and requires melting or breaking to smooth your passage. You do not need one if people in the group are comfortable with one another.
Participants may resent a getting-to-know-you game if they can not link it to the objectives of the session. Consider asking a question with some risk in it that pushes people to think about the issue to be discussed. ( What risks does our organization / group face around this issue?)
Why is this an issue?
This is vitally important. I was recently at a national conference on facilitation.
One session opened up with an 'icebreaker' that made me feel really uncomfortable.
It would have been OK with people who knew each other well and had a high degree of trust in each other. And there were quite a few in this boat.
Not me though. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. But there was no escape … so I decided to take my own advice, directed my eyes and soldiered on. I'm glad I did. It showed me the fine line between 'challenging' participants and 'losing' participants when using an icebreaker.
It also showed the need to clearly understand the strength of existing relationships within a group before considering how far to 'push' them.
Here are some steps to help you in setting up your session and deciding on whether an icebreaker is appropriate.
Pace your opening questions
A rule of thumb is to give ten to fifteen minutes for introductions for a three hour session; forty-five minutes for introductions for an eight hour session or two hours for introductions in a three day session. Even a one hour meeting can benefit from a quick 'check-in' question. ( What might a door leading to this issue look like?)
Relate your opening questions directly to session outcomes
This allows participants to experience the link between the questions and their productivity during the process and buildings ownership for expected outcomes. ( In light of our objective, what would make you feel good about this meeting?)
Play to participants' strengths
Create opening questions that enable everyone to feel included as legitimate members of the group. ( Which part of this project interests you the most? Why?)
Enable participants to make the transition from their day-to-day reality
( What did you have to do to clear your desk and make it here today? )
Such questions can work particularly well for an in-house meeting.
Link your final question into the next part of the agenda
( What is one thing you want to get out of this session that relates directly to what you are doing now at work?)
If you'd like more detailed information I recommend, Making Questions Work , by Canadian facilitator, Dorothy Strachan.