The library world has mixed feelings about icebreakers. Some of us will avoid them at all costs and show up late to meetings if the agenda starts off with an icebreaker. Some of us love goofy icebreaker activities like a group paper scissors rock competition.
Given these very strong and totally opposed opinions, how can you use icebreakers wisely in library meetings?
I confess: ice breakers are starting to make more sense to me. When volunteering for a service committee, icebreakers can help people from different libraries get to know each other. For staff days, where all the participants theoretically know each other, icebreakers can engage those who are reluctant to join in wholeheartedly.
On my library team, icebreakers help us get started on our monthly departmental meeting.
When people first step into the conference room, their minds are on the patron they just helped at the desk, or on the report they have to run afterward. An icebreaker can re-focus everyone’s attention on the other people in the conference room.
Icebreakers have to be used with caution, however, because of those opposing viewpoints on them. I stick with a very simple icebreaker that the dean of my last library used at managers’ meetings.
The icebreaker I use is a connection question. It’s a very simple question that each person answers briefly. It might be about work, or not about work at all.
I share the connection question in the meeting agenda so that everyone has a chance to think about it.
A few connection questions I’ve used include:
- What book have you enjoyed lately?
- What’s your hobby outside of work?
- What work skill are you particularly proud to have?
- What date on your calendar are you looking forward to?
- What professional development activity has helped most in your career?
- What’s your favorite restaurant near the library?
These questions aren’t too personal, but they do encourage people to share a a little bit about themselves.
When I started this library manager job a year ago, several people across my team said that they wanted to get to know their colleagues better. The connection question helps individuals connect about their interests and goals.
Through this icebreaker, I’ve learned surprising things about the people I work with in libraries. I learned that one person is an accomplished musician, that another is a huge science fiction fan, and that most people pack their lunches and therefore don’t have strong opinions on restaurants near campus.
The connection questions get everyone in the mode of speaking up in the meeting. They swing us into a group conversation, and sometimes spark good conversations afterward.
Of course, some people will loathe icebreakers no matter what. The connection question has the virtue of being short enough that icebreaker haters get done with it quickly. The quick time also helps keep meetings short and effective – which we all agree is good.