Ice maker vs. ice breaker?

Photograph by @Chris_Regg

Photograph by @Chris_Regg

Those HR "ice breakers" for corporate meetings often have the opposite effect.

Instead of helping people get to know one another better and creating an environment of trust for an offsite meeting, they often make people uncomfortable and really anxious.

Then as the ice breaker hits the wrong note, the "oh-don't-take-things-so-seriously" bad boy/girl comments kick in, which makes people feel even worse.

The Charades nightmare

One of my friends was recently promoted to the executive team of a large global company, reporting to the CEO. She's smart, funny, extremely competent and an extrovert.

At her first leadership offsite the HR exec announced that they'd set the stage for the meeting by playing Charades.

My friend's worst nightmare. She hates Charades, for good reason. She's just not very good at it. But here she was, trying to earn credibility with her new peers and having to play Charades.

People laughed and easily guessed one another's phrases. All except my friend's. No one could figure what she was trying to express.

Like she couldn't feel any more humiliated, the CEO said, "Geez, that was awful. You'd think that our marketing head should be good at a communications game."

Forget silly ice breakers, ask a meaningful question

I believe establishing a relaxed, inviting vibe for an offsite meeting is essential. And I've always hated corny ice breakers. The time together at work offsites is so precious, why squander it on silly exercises?

(Except, true confession, I did love learning about some bad Bill Gates behavior during an otherwise bland Two Truths and a Lie ice breaker years ago. Juicy and probably a walk into unprofessional gossip territory.)

My experience is that a good question that helps us understand what's important or valued by our team mates is a far better way to kick things off.

  • Who was your first boss and what did you learn from him/her, good or bad?

  • What excites you about being here?

  • What breaks your heart about work?

  • What most matters to you?

  • Courage has four traits: bravery, honesty, perseverance and enthusiasm. Which one of those traits is your courageous superpower?

Charades can be great fun. But some things shouldn't come to work.