Effective icebreakers build safe, positive, collaborative spaces. Better yet, they enhance the productivity of all types of meetings, including retrospectives.

On the flip side, a bad icebreaker can have the opposite effect. An ineffective icebreaker may make people feel excluded, anxious or frustrated. They may even reduce meeting productivity.

So how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of your icebreaker activity? Here are our top five tips for running effective icebreakers.

  1. Be prepared
  2. Set the scene
  3. Go first
  4. Make sure everyone has a go
  5. Keep it positive

Be prepared

A little preparation makes a big difference to the effectiveness of an icebreaker. Taking just a couple of minutes to get things in order before the meeting will deliver big returns.

  • Choose a good icebreaker question

Good icebreaker questions follow the 3E Rule. They are easy, enjoyable and explainable. They prompt people to share their stories so connections can be formed. Remember, if a question can be answered with a quick yes or no, it’s not a good icebreaker.

The great thing about a good icebreaker question is that there are no right or wrong answers. They are inclusive, simple and fun.

To help you get started, we’ve built an icebreaker widget that can generate questions for you! You can even choose a category to target if you wish to focus on a specific aspect of your team.

  • Allocate time to the icebreaker

Allocating time for the icebreaker is important for two reasons. Firstly, it lets everyone know what they can expect when they step into the room. Secondly, it helps to manage the flow of the icebreaker activity itself.

A timer has been included on the icebreaker widget. It helps you keep an eye on the time and you can refer to it if you need to move the conversation along. It also helps to make sure your retrospective starts on time.

  • Grab a list

Make sure you have a list of participants. It’s always helpful to know who you’re talking to.

Set the scene

Setting the scene means giving people an overview of the icebreaker before it starts. It will help things run smoothly. This can cover the mechanics of the icebreaker, for example how long it should take, as well as the benefits an icebreaker can deliver.

This time can also help to reduce any anxiety in the room. People can ask any questions they may have and, importantly, this is a chance to remind people that there are no right or wrong answers.

Setting the scene will only take a couple of minutes, but it helps to support the effectiveness of the icebreaker.

Go first

Going first is especially important if your team is new or if you have new people in the team. It lets you show people how to answer an icebreaker question. It also helps to set the tone of the activity (and the retrospective that will follow). People will follow your lead.

There’s no need to worry who follows you. TeamRetro’s icebreaker widget can be used to nominate who goes next.

Make sure everyone has a go

This tip is linked to effective icebreakers being inclusive. Nothing makes someone feel less important than being overlooked. The significance of making sure everyone has had a chance to have a turn can’t be stressed enough.

There are three quick ways you can confirm everyone has had a turn. First of all, the list of participants can be checked. The icebreaker widget can also help; each time someone answers the icebreaker question their name can be removed from the list of people still to answer. It’s also perfectly alright just to ask the group if everyone has had a turn.

Bonus tip: Let people ‘pass’. If someone is clearly very nervous or simply can’t think of something, give them the option to ‘pass’. Everyone has good days and bad, and this is a chance to show empathy.

Keep it positive

A positive icebreaker is a gift that keeps on giving. People are naturally drawn to optimism. They want to connect with something that will make them feel good.

Positivity is also contagious. When you connect with positive people it’s likely you will enjoy making that connection and view that connection in a good light. It will probably put you in a good mood!

Keeping an icebreaker positive is fantastically simple. Thank people for their input. Listen to what they say and celebrate the diversity of input your icebreaker inspires.

For more about icebreakers, you can also head over to our blog where we share what makes the best icebreakers for teams along with quick but effective icebreakers to launch your next retrospective.