This article was originally published on MindTools.com.
Virtual ice breakers are a great way of overcoming one of the biggest challenges of managing a remote team – that is, the lack of opportunities for team bonding. It’s no longer as simple as walking over to someone’s desk for a quick catch up or having an informal chat round the “water cooler.” Building rapport, developing lines of communication and simply getting to know your team mates takes effort when you all work from home.
But this can have serious implications. People may become less engaged and motivated over time. You might struggle to encourage creativity and problem-solving. And feelings of loneliness and isolation may increase.
Virtual ice breakers can help you to bring your team together and break down the communication barriers caused by remote working. In this article, we’ll explain how virtual ice breakers can benefit your team and look at some examples that you could try out.
What Is a Virtual Ice Breaker?
Simply put, an ice breaker is a game or activity that you can do with the members of your team to get to know each other better and stimulate conversation. Essentially they are designed to “break the ice.” You might use one to get to know a new team member, or to
kick off a training session or team event.
Virtual ice breakers are exactly the same, but they are done online via a video call or web chat. They can benefit your team in a number of ways. For example, they can:
- introduce new recruits to their teammates in a fun and engaging way.
- encourage people to learn more about one another.
- improve communication.
- build team rapport.
- bring an element of fun and interactivity to team meetings or brainstorming sessions.
- reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- help people to feel more relaxed and positive.
When to Use Virtual Ice Breakers
You can use virtual ice breakers at the start of any video team meeting, but there are a number of scenarios where they are particularly valuable. For example, if your team members work in different locations and aren’t able to meet in person, they can help them to develop the sort of relationships and rapport that an office-based team would naturally.
Perhaps you’ve had to bring teams together from different organizations following a company or departmental merger. There may be initial suspicion about the “other” group at first, but a virtual ice breaker can help bring the two “sides” together, help them to develop trust and encourage cooperation.
An ice breaker can also be a great way of introducing new people to a team in a relaxed and fun way. This will help them to learn more about their new teammates (and vice versa) so that they can start developing new connections right from the “get go.”
When Virtual Ice Breakers Aren’t Appropriate
Ice breakers might not be appropriate for every virtual meeting. For example, spending time on a “fun” activity will likely annoy people if they are working under pressure and have a lot on, or if you are meeting to discuss a crisis or emergency.
You might also hold off on using one if a senior manager joins the call. While it may be tempting to demonstrate your team’s great working dynamic, it’s more important to recognize that their time is likely limited. Getting to the point quickly might be a better idea!
Even if your team works remotely, an ice breaker might not be necessary. Participants might see the activity as patronizing or as a waste of time if they’re already in regular contact.
An ice breaker could help to break down unhealthy cliques when a new person joins an already-established team. Initially, you may get “push back” from existing team members who think it’s a waste of time. If this is the case, explain to them why you think it’s a good a idea, and encourage them to fully engage and participate in the exercise.
Designing Your Virtual Ice Breaker
Consider these factors before choosing your virtual ice breaker:
- Establish a purpose. Ask yourself, “what “ice” do you want to break? Are you simply introducing people to one another for the first time? Are you bringing people together who work at different levels in your organization? Or people who have different cultures and backgrounds? You’ll need to handle these differences sensitively and make sure that everyone can easily understand and get involved in the ice breaker.
- Define your goals and objectives. Do you want people to learn more about one another? Or is your objective more complex? For instance, do you want to encourage people to think creatively or to solve a particular problem?
- Help people feel comfortable. Your ice breaker will only be successful if everyone feels able to participate. So think about whether there are any obstacles that could hinder this, such as differences in language or culture . Steer clear of activities that might inadvertently cause offence. Bear in mind that information can often get “lost in translation,” and that jokes and humor don’t always travel well!
- Take time into account. Do you want your ice breaker to be a quick five-minute activity or something more substantial? Take into account your purpose and objectives, as well as your team members’ workloads and whether they are calling from different time zones.
- Choose your frequency. Consider whether the ice breaker is a one-off or if you want to make it a regular thing. Will you change your ice breaker every time? Will the same person always take the lead or will you rotate who gets to pick and lead the activity, if you decide to have one at the start of every meeting?
- Keep people’s location in mind. Think about where your participants will likely be during your meeting. Will they all be at home? Will some be in an office? Or will they be travelling? This might affect how long they can spend on the call, and their level of participation and engagement.
- Consider technology. Make sure that everyone is using the same video chat software, and that they are familiar with how to use it beforehand. Also establish the format that your ice breaker will take. For instance, do you want all people to use their webcam? Or will a voice call be sufficient? Some people are “camera shy,” have poor internet connection or may not have the right technology. If this is the case, you might want to choose an ice breaker that doesn’t rely on people being able to see each other.
- Prep in advance. Decide how much information you’ll need to provide your participants with beforehand. Do they, for example, need to bring a prop or prepare some information ahead of your meeting? Alternatively, you may want to keep the ice breaker a suprise, particularly if you want people to flex their creative muscles.
Virtual Ice-Breaker Examples
Here are a few simple virtual ice breaker ideas to try out in your team:
Take a Picture of Your Shoes
The idea for this virtual ice breaker comes from online meeting service Lucid Meetings. Ask each team member to take a picture of their shoes and upload it ahead of your meeting. This activity is best for video calls, but it can work on audio calls as well, as long as everyone can see each other’s pictures. At the start of the meeting, ask each participant to discuss their choice of shoe, and the “story” behind it. For example, one person might be wearing running shoes because they’re into sports, or someone else might wear flip flops because they love to travel. You can vary this exercise by asking each team member to take a picture of an object on their desk, and getting them to talk about it.
The Social Question
Ask each participant an ice breaker question. These can help to stimulate lively conversations and even debate. Most importantly, they’ll enable people to get to know each other better, and encourage communication and team bonding.
- What was your first job? What’s your favorite season and why?
- What’s your favorite food/drink? If there was a movie made about your life, who would play you?
- What’s your biggest guilty pleasure? What do your surroundings look like?
- What’s your favorite place to go on vacation?
- What’s your favorite movie or book?
- What’s your favorite smell? What music do you like?
- If you were an ice cream, what flavor would you be?
- When I dance I look like ___ [fill in the blank].
- Do you have any pets? What have you achieved this week that you feel proud of?
- What was the last movie you watched that made you cry?
- What’s the story behind your name?
- What’s your favorite sport to play/watch?
- Take a picture from your window and have people guess where you are.
- Did you have any imaginary friends when you were young?
- What’s the weather like where you are?
- What’s your favorite color?
- Show something that’s on your desk and tell a story about it
- What’s your biggest “pet peeve”? What new thing have you learned this week?
- Ask the following question, to one participant at a time: “If you were able to travel through time, either forward or backward… Where would you go? If backward, to which time period? Why?
- If there was a person you could go back in time and meet, who would it be, and why?
- Would you just want to visit and come back, or would you stay?”
Two Lies and a Truth
The idea for this ice breaker was developed by new media consultant Joitske Hulsebosch.
Ask each team member to prepare a list of three interesting “facts” about themselves, two of which must be made up. These could be anything, from a pet they own or a hobby they love to a famous person they’ve met. Then, get other team members to pick which of the statements is true. The team member who receives the most incorrect votes “wins.”
Virtual ice breakers are a great way of encouraging remote teams to bond and build rapport. They can also help to improve communication, stimulate creative thinking, build internal networks, and introduce new recruits to their co-workers in a fun, engaging and positive way.
Before choosing which virtual ice breaker you should use. Think about who your participants are, consider your purpose and your key goals and objectives. You’ll also need to take into account the functionality of your participants’ technology, as well as any differences in time zones and culture.
There are a wide variety of virtual ice breaker activities that you can choose from, including:
- Take a picture of your shoes/desk/surroundings.
- Social questions.
- The time machine.
- Two lies and a truth.