Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Using ice breakers to engage new groups

One of the hardest things to do is transform a group of strangers into a receptive learning team at the start of a training session. In a recent discussion on in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) group on LinkedIn, people weighed in on their thoughts about ice breakers as a tool.

Discussion began in response to: “How do you start a training session when you are not dealing with an intact work group? Do you use ice-breakers, games, or some other technique to engage the group?”


Breaking down walls


Kevin, a project administrator, recommends using an ice breaker that encourages learners to share personal information in order to break down emotional walls. Prompt group members with unfinished statements like “The most embarassing thing that happened to me was..." or "The TV show that I watch that most people don't know is...”

Some group members warned against playing ice breaker games that get too personal and make people uncomfortable. To avoid the vulnerability people feel sharing personal information, Suzann recommends using a less intrusive “bingo” type ice breaker. Have people group themselves into categories like favorite color, born in a certain state, or traveled internationally.

Suzann, a staff and curriculum supervisor, has also used icebreaker activities based on group member work experience. As people introduce themselves they share how long they’ve been with the company and in what positions. Knowing the group’s experience levels helps create unity and puts the trainer in a position to shift the “focus from the front of the room to the learners.”


Engaged listeners


Maria combines Suzann’s “experience in the room” technique with voting activities using handheld polling devices. The electronic handheld devices engage group members by having to press a button to respond to questions and provide instant gratification in a graphic model from responses in the room. The method offers anonymity when someone is unsure of their answer, instead of having to raise a hand, and “distracts those who customarily sit in the back of the room and read the USA Today or use their crackberries.”

Responding to another commenter’s “name tent” ice breaker idea, a learning and development specialist named Lisa puts a twist on the introduction activity. As people show up for class they write their name on one side of their name tent and a picture representing their lives on the other. Lisa tells her class that whoever stumps her with their picture gets a special prize, such as an extended lunch break.

“By the end of the class they are all working together to try and stump me. Most of them do not even care about the prize - its all about winning,” Lisa said. The game works best when you have ample time to go through the names, because it could take a while depending on students’ Pictionary skills.

1 comment:

Training ice breakers said...

One of the easiest ice breaker is include a bar of chocolate around just about any exercise that can be made competitive. It's amazing how people quickly respond to this with a smile and understand the fun factor of the experience they are going through. It seems we have a strong chocolate association.


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