Break the Ice
From: M. D. Anderson Department of Performance Improvement
Date: January 15, 2008

Helen Sprigg-Saenz: Good morning, this morning I will be providing you with an overview of icebreakers. You might ask what is an icebreaker? Icebreakers are simply a tool such as a short exercise that enables the interaction, can stimulate creative thinking, may challenge any basic assumption that a group might have, can illustrate new concepts, and introduce any specific material for discussion or a project. Icebreakers are used in group projects or processes to help a group get acquainted and feel more comfortable working together, it also helps to create a non-threatening environment and a high level of trust between the participants of a group.

It also can be used to provide a preview of a topic for discussion, teaches skill, more than anything it encourages people to have fun and participate in the group process. Icebreakers can also be used to evoke a response from a group, create a high level of awareness about a certain topic or process, and can also be used to move a team forward in a project.

How are icebreakers used? They can be used anytime during the meeting, at the beginning, the end, or just simply to energize the group and to get them on track. Appropriate, they need to be appropriate to the group, the application or the content that's being discussed and they need to be structured. You ask what kind of structure? Well, an icebreaker really works best when participants are given the rationale for the activity, the objectives for the activity, and the structure of that activity that you want them to participate in. You also need to give them the opportunity to ask questions and also have permission to participate at their own level of comfort.

A few examples of icebreakers, one is Duke's warhead exercise, these are basically sour candies that can be found at any area HEB grocery store, and they start off with the first few minutes or seconds being very sour that within moments they become sweet. This exercise can be used to understand change.

Another example of an icebreaker is something so simple as a recall exercise, to create a level or awareness level of your participants about a process or a topic for discussion. In the example that I provided you here basically the recall, this person may have come up with a song or simply some saying to get them to remember what they've heard or seen.

Another example of an icebreaker could be the cartoon qualities; this is an exercise that we used here at M. D. Anderson in the Performance Pathways Preceptor Program to introduce the topic of coaching for our preceptors. And what we get them to do is to come up with a cartoon character that basically exemplifies those characteristics that they may have, or that they identify with in a cartoon character as being a terrific coach.

What I'd like to leave you with this morning is a few resources such as some URL addresses to access a few icebreakers to use. They can be modified for your use or your group as needed. The examples of the icebreakers that I've given you today can be found on the Create Solutions webpage and if you'll tune in to the next webcast you'll be provided an update concerning icebreakers. Thank you.