Chipping Away the Ice: a Guide to Creating Intentional Connection

The very first group activity sets the tone for the entire gathering. A bad icebreaker can leave you feeling awkward and bored and you may struggle to feel a connection with others in the room. Moving past the average icebreaker, actually breaking the ice, can be tough. We are all too familiar with the lackluster intro, “say your name and something interesting about yourself.” Ugh, not again. These attempts at connection invoke little to no creative conversation and everyone in the room is usually too busy planning what they are going to say instead of actually listening.

We believe in the power of human connection and real conversation. We tire of the same old icebreakers and we strive to create engaging and intriguing activities that energize people. We want inclusive conversation that sparks joy. Why not design icebreakers with intent to facilitate relationship building and alignment towards common goals in a way that makes people feel comfortable? Once a positive and energetic tone is set, deeper engagement for the rest of the session is guaranteed.

Below is a list of three favorite icebreakers (some unique and some borrowed) that we absolutely love when it comes to creating connection and building community. Feel free to spread them far and wide.

#1: COMMON THREAD

Key Themes: Connection, Get-to-know-you, Empathy, Story
Source: Design Impact

We all know empathy is strengthened by common ground, and this activity aims to show us how much we really do have in common with one another. We originally created this activity for our recent staff retreat with Greater Good Studio (shout out to George Aye and Sara Cantor Aye!) and realized its potential as an icebreaker to evoke empathy and comradery. Throughout the activity, players physically weave their stories and experiences together by unraveling and passing a ball of yarn (yes, yarn!). It’s all about making connections through stories, and finding common themes between people. What is so beautiful about this metaphor-heavy activity is that players are left with tangible ties to everyone in their group, whether they started out as co-workers or strangers.

Download the printable directions.

Kate exuberantly describes a tale from her past. Photo by Greater Good Studio during our staff retreat.

#2: BACK-TO-BACK DRAWING

Key Themes: Communication, Interpretation, Teamwork
Source: VCU’s Ice Breaker and Team Building Guide

How well can you communicate with your teammate when you can’t say much at all? Players are confronted with the everyday challenge of interpreting what others mean and articulating their own thoughts…all while on a time limit. By blending the creative aspect of drawing with the logical mindset of direction-giving, this particular activity is great for both artsy and pragmatic folks alike. Don’t be fooled, though, this takes a lot of brainpower. Are you intrigued yet? Click the link below.

Download the printable directions.

Sarah and Michelle sit back to back as Sarah gives instructions on what Michelle should draw.

#3: ARTIFACTS

Key Themes: Reflection, Creativity, Get-to-know-you, Story
Source: Your Kindergarten Class (Show-and-Tell)

This icebreaker is a lively way to inspire deep reflection and creativity. All you need is a series of different household/office objects. Artifacts can provoke deeper conversation by asking participants to think abstractly around a prompt or question. For example, you might ask attendees to pick an object that best represents their organization and explain the reasoning to their peers.The practice of relating your thoughts and emotions to an artifact helps participants examine and express more openly what they’re thinking and feeling.In addition holding an object can act much like a stress ball, during group conversations or introductions. And the handling of unique, unusual or fun objects keeps the atmosphere light even though the conversations can provoke deeper thoughts.

Download the printable directions.

We broke out this icebreaker for a Creative Placemaking Luncheon hosted by Artswave and LISC with arts organizations.

By Bizzy Young
Communications and Design Coordinator
bizg@d-impact.org