Archives For ice breakers


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.


Last week I had the rare pleasure of watching 81 well-caffeinated library staff members battle for supremacy in an elaborate Paper Scissors Rock tournament.

The bracket-style elimination competition was the warm-up exercise for  our staff retreat. Because our division within the library spans multiple locations and shift times, we hardly ever get the opportunity to gather in one place and put faces to email addresses. The focus for the staff retreat wasn’t elaborate problem-solving or strategic planning; rather, we just needed to get acquainted.

photo of a stone marble rock

Rock is a winning strategy

The challenge for the retreat was to create structured, pleasant, and productive opportunities for a very large group of staff to mingle and get to know one another. We created table teams of staff from different departments, plied them with breakfast refreshments and coffee, then pitted the teams against one another to create instant team spirit within the groups.

The game: Paper Scissors Rock. The house rules: 1, 2, 3, throw. The twist: team-based play.

Each team had ten seconds to consult about what move to make next. They faced off against other teams, and everyone on the team made the same play simultaneously. The team with the best out of three plays went on to the next round. In about 20 minutes, we winnowed down from 14 teams of 6 people to the ultimate group of champions.

Some may observe that this tournament was a little silly and didn’t apply to our everyday jobs. True facts! The real value of the exercise was in banding together with 5 colleagues, working strategically with them, and, admittedly, getting a little silly.

We’ve all been subject to icebreaker games at the beginning of events. Rock Paper Scissors was easy to roll out, didn’t put anyone on the spot alone, and pumped up the camaraderie right away. What offbeat exercises have you employed in the name of team building?

Team Building for Everyone

hhibner —  March 26, 2013 — 4 Comments

team workI’ll be honest: when I hear the phrase “team building exercises” I absolutely cringe.  For some reason, I picture trust falls and corny games. Probably because that’s all I’ve ever been exposed to. Also, I’m an introvert. I agree that functioning as a team is important, and that team building exercises can be valuable. As a library leader in my organization, I’ve been asked to come up with team building exercises, and I tried to be sensitive to the kinds of things that some people find fun (role playing, for example) and the kinds of things that  others find horrifying (role playing, for example!). This post will give suggestions for team building exercises that won’t fill people like me with dread. That’s not to say that some of these ideas won’t require a little compromise – which I am always willing to do and I believe that all staff members should also be willing to do to some degree. That said, people have their limits and should not be forced to do things they’re not comfortable doing, or made to feel bad for not trying things! Those people should be asked to suggest the compromise. What are they willing to do? What are their deal breakers?

Have a Book Discussion
Nothing out of the ordinary here. The team reads a book and discusses. Please, no skits or charades. I’d rather…not. But I’ll be happy to submit discussion questions, weigh in on book themes, and post book reviews on a staff blog.  Along these lines, you can also have a movie discussion or a library current events discussion (I’d avoid general current events so things don’t get political, but library current events are relevant.  What’s in the library literature lately?). It’s a way to get to know people and their views, share ideas, and sometimes even agree to disagree.

Survival Scenarios
You’re deserted on an island. What ten items does your small group want? Write your items on a flip chart. The group facilitator will do the “reporting” to the larger group by reading your list to everyone and pointing out similarities/differences from group to group.  Everyone participates in the discussion, no one is singled out, no one has to perform, everyone has to agree on ten items.

Puzzles and Brain Teasers
Form teams, solve a puzzle. Easy peasy.  Communication is important in the group, problem solving is performed, and no one has to look the fool.

Build Something
Maker spaces are all the rage in libraries.  Groups can be given random tools and resources and be told to “build something.” They get to be creative, work as a team, communicate, problem solve…all good things.

Go to an Event
A concert, a sporting event, a play, an arcade, or even a high school musical are all places that a team can be together, but there is something to focus on other than strictly each other.  Be a part of the group and enjoy the event without being the center of attention: perfect!

Form a team/Have a tournament
A bowling night, a volleyball game, a golf scramble, a softball game, a bridge or euchre tournament…these are all activities that require team work, and where introverts can still excel.  Now, some introverts are just not “joiners.” For me, a team event is great because again – the focus is not on me exclusively and I can still participate. Those not into actually playing sports and games can be score keepers, in charge of refreshments, venue contacts, or clean-up crew.

Flash mob
As long as the introvert can be part of the crowd, they *might* be willing to go for this one. I would, but my introversion is more a communication and reflection style than being “shy.”  I’m ok with blending into a crowd doing something weird; I just don’t want to be singled out doing something weird.  Those who are just not comfortable with participating can be the ones who design what the flash  mob is going to do.

Cooking Competition
This isn’t so much about team work, but still builds an atmosphere of fun in the work place, making people all-around happier to be at work together.  Have a chili cook off or judge the best cookies – or whatever else you come up with.  People like to be fed, they like to show off their best recipes and cooking prowess, and it changes up an otherwise ordinary day.

The other thing I’m not fond of is “ice breakers.”  I once showed up late to a workshop on purpose because the first item on the agenda said “ice breakers.” The horror! Ice breakers are always some corny game where you have to do something foolish or think of something clever.  It’s not fun, it’s pressure!  I’m happy to say my name and where I’m from, but then let’s move on. For some people, that’s even going to be a stretch.  Introducing yourself to the people around you is polite and friendly, but making me feel weird and goofy in the name of “fun”…well, it’s just not fun.

When planning team building exercises and ice breakers, leaders should consider different personality types and styles.  What is fun and enlightening to some will make others very uncomfortable and actually backfire, isolating them from the team.  There are lots of activities that are fun and stimulating for everyone.

Book recommendation:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain