Don’t break the ice
⚠ Warning: rant ahead…
Icebreakers free ships, not people.
Those dreaded words, ‘Let’s start with an ice-breaker’ land as awkwardly as any dad joke.
Most people will roll their eyes. Some will panic and look for the exit.
So why do we insist? Probably because ‘icebreaker’ is there in black and white, on the agenda. Pity the bunny who’s been allocated to run it.
Next time you’re asked if you know a good ice breaker, take a little time to ask ‘why’.
Why is this group coming together? Is it to plan, to share their ideas, concerns and hopes? That sounds pretty personal.
To do that, we have to connect with each other.
If we connect, we feel a little safer to speak up and to speak honestly. To share our insights and ideas. To listen with slightly more open minds and hearts.
If we can’t connect, we can’t work together effectively. We are more likely to stick to our fixed positions and points of view. We are less likely to listen and to contribute. We end up going round in circles.
We can’t collaborate. What a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
It is so worth spending the time designing a way for people to connect at the start. And here’s the trick — it must relate to the purpose of the gathering, event or workshop. What’s not to love? Connect and frame the topic.
How we help the group to connect with each other sets the tone for the session. I like to think of it as the start of the ‘story’ for the session. Plato’s observation that, ‘the beginning is the most important part of the work’ has stood the test of time for a reason.
Another thing to watch is how much time they will have to connect. The less time on the agenda for people to connect, the more time we need to spend designing it. It’s counterintuitive, just like a short speech. President Woodrow Wilson is attributed with the saying that a ten-minute speech took him two weeks to prepare. Yet, “…if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”
This has become even more relevant these days. We have less time available to us for people to connect and get to know each other on Zoom than in the room.
I’m exploring this at two conferences this month for facilitators and engagement practitioners. We’ll talk about why connection is important. What can happen when we don’t connect and explore ideas for connecting people quickly and deeply.
I know one way that works really well. Can you guess?