17 best icebreakers for small group workshops

17 best icebreakers for small group workshops

You are inviting a group of people who may or may not know each other professionally into a room to solve a problem.

You want them to cut loose with their best, most out-there ideas. You’re there to inspire action, engagement, activity!

But… no one is talking.

No one is taking any risks.

Except you, that is, as you prepare your very best ice breaker.

Which one do you choose?

We’ve curated a list of suggestions from the Pip Decks community and the world wide web at large.

The best slightly weird icebreakers

1. Draw your job

You’ve started your meeting (in person or virtual), and you ask everyone to introduce themselves and share a bit about what they do… and everyone just says their name and job title. Not exactly riveting. So instead, ask each participant to take turns drawing their job for others to guess. See Frodge in the image below?

He’s an editor. It’s not the most artistically gifted drawing you’ve ever seen, but it’s a lot more engaging than “I’m Frodge and I’m an editor”. Use this approach for groups that don’t already know what each other do, of course. Although getting C-suites to draw their jobs could be fun, too!

2. Tell a dumb story

Sacrifice yourself by going first - just launch into a dumb story that made you laugh. It helps if it’s one others will laugh along with! You’ll find people follow up with questions, or add their own stories to the mix. It’s a super natural way to get people loosened up and chatting without causing that initial moment of dread when you announce it’s time for an icebreaker.

3. Use a random question generator

This works well for in-person or virtual meetings. You can prepare some questions in advance, or get the group to prepare some of their own at the start of the session - or you can use one of the tools below to pick a question. Then, get everyone to answer a couple of questions each - perhaps throwing in a common question for all participants to start with, or to lead into the rest of the meeting.

The best downright bizarre ice breakers

4. Happy story, angry face

Go round the room or call and ask each person to tell a happy story - but get them to scowl angrily as they do so! It feels very silly, but it also helps get your brain ready for surprises - such as all the creative ideas you’re about to encounter.

It works the other way around, too. Ask participants to tell a story about something really annoying that’s happened recently, all with a big grin on their face.

5. Getting to snow you

Ah yes, an icebreaker that immediately plunges the group into chaos. Give everyone some bits of paper or post-it notes. Tell each person to write a fact about themselves on each sheet, then scrunch it up… and chuck it at someone else! Keep this up for a minute or so, then get each person to pick up a piece, read the notes and try to guess who the fact belongs to. Thanks for that one, Dave!

6. Playing popstar

We've all heard the stories of famous people requesting ridiculous items for their 'rider' (dressing room provisions). Hundreds of flowers, sweets with all the blue ones removed etc... well, now it's your turn!

Get everyone to share what three items they would like to request for their rider. Which items waiting on their desk each morning would transform their day?

It’s a great way to learn a little something about each person’s priorities and simple pleasures in life without asking any direct questions. And it’s a nice little opportunity to daydream about being famous.

7. Draw me a perfect circle

It’s a pretty bizarre request, but hey, there’s a website for it! Joel Stein, part of the Pip Decks community, suggested this for those last-minute meetings where you haven’t got time to prepare something elaborate. Get your team onto Voles’ Perfect Circle and see who can get the highest score in this weirdly addictive icebreaker that will get everyone competing against each other like old friends in no time.

The best traditional icebreakers

8. Icebreaker Stories

Icebreaker Stories is one of our Storyteller Tactics cards! It includes two different icebreakers you can try if you want to get your meeting attendees thinking about stories.

One requires you to prepare a few images of random items in advance, so that everyone can select three and then use them to build a story based on a theme you’ve chosen.

The other involves a bit of teamwork, so could be a great way to set the tone if that’s how you’re planning to run the rest of the meeting, too. Split the group into two teams and show them a photo of a random item (for example, a stone). Then, get one team to invent a story about why they love the stone so much and the other to create a story about why they hate the stone so much

9. Once upon a time…

Another from Joel, and sticking with the story theme, why not get your participants to create a little story together? You can kick things off with “Once upon a time…” and then get everyone to add one line at a time. Choose a theme, or let their imaginations run wild - it’s up to you!

10. Caption this

This one’s from Rachel Davis, part of the Pip Decks community; it’s great for either in-person or virtual sessions. Place an image up front and centre for your group (you can even use a couple images if you’re feeling squirrely). Make it fun, choose an image that might make people smile or laugh, or just relate it to the session!

If you’re using a Miro board, this is a great way for people to learn how to use stickies and reactions. Your board should include stickies under the photo for people to write on, and then a bank of emojis or stickers for everyone else to react to all the comments. Or, if you're in a physical room, wait until everyone has submitted a caption and go round and read them out one by one. The winner is the caption that gets the loudest laugh!

11. Circles, circles, everywhere…

Another Pip Decks member suggestion - this time, Tom suggests a fiendishly addictive task that can be done online or in person. Simply give everyone a page/workspace with lots of circles, and get them to turn their circles into as many different things as possible using a bit of illustration. Here’s IDEO’s explanation as to why it’s so effective.

The best icebreakers with a modern (tech) twist

It’s no surprise that some of our favourite icebreakers have a Miro twist! If you’ve not tried it yet, Miro is a virtual workspace that lets your meeting attendees collaborate creatively - in real time. An added bonus of using these icebreakers is that they’re a nice way to ease people into using Miro if they haven’t done it before.

12. Character mix and match

This Miro set-up lets your participants create a character from a whole host of different illustrated parts. They can try to build a portrait, or just see where their creativity takes them!

13. Emotions wheel

Emotions wheel is an icebreaker and a great way to check in on your participants! Ask everyone to place their dots on whichever part of the wheel of emotion best represents how they’re feeling today. This works well for regular meetings too, as it provides an opportunity for people to talk about how they’re feeling, perhaps about the project at hand, rather than focussing on tasks and deadlines.

14. This or That

This is a great warm up for all kinds of meetings. It’s best for small groups of no more than six people. Set up a Miro board with a range of ‘this or that’ type questions, where the two possible answers are shown at either end of a spectrum. Ask your participants to slide their dots in whatever colour they’re allocated to show where they sit on the matter. This one’s from Rachel Davis, a facilitation expert with tonnes of great Miro tips, too - check out her LinkedIn post about this warm up for more detail and to see what her Miro set-up looks like.

15. This, That or The Other

While the Pip Decks community were chucking around ideas for icebreakers, Rachel’s suggestion above inspired Craig Dial to add a little something extra: an ‘Other’ category, for participants who wanted something other than the two given answers. He’s suggested running it with the two options first, then adding the third one in to get people discussing how different it feels.

“I see it as a way to introduce the power of the Rule of Three (one option is a trap, two is a dilemma, three provides real choice).”

16. Total years’ experience

Another one from the Pip Decks community chat. Will Mushat says he does the following for a nice warm-up that’s personalised to the group:

  • As people arrive, quietly gather information about the number of years experience they have.
  • Total up the number for the whole group.
  • For the icebreaker, have participants write down their guess as to what the total might be.
  • Everyone then stands up (or raises a hand, virtually) and you start to whittle the group down with instructions like “Stay standing/keep your hand raised if your number contains a five” or “Sit down if your guess ends in an odd number”.
  • Keep going until you have a winner (the last person standing, even if they’re not quite right!)

Then, when you start your session you’ve got a group who knows and respects the level of knowledge and wisdom in the room. All you’ve got to do is put it to work!

17. icebreakr_

This is six icebreakers in one place! The free version allows up to ten participants to play Silly Startups, Storymoji, In a giphy and What's the future? Each has a selection of prompts and access to emojis, gifs and other little features to help bring your participants' answers to life.

Those are 17 of the best icebreakers we know. If you need something a little different and you're a member of the Pip Decks community, you'll get some great suggestions from your peers over in the Slack channel.

Not a member yet? All you need to do is get your hands on a set of Pip Decks cards. Then you'll have access to a thriving community as well as online workshops and tutorials. See you there!


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