Here are 10 icebreaker activities you can use with your team. They all have fairly detailed instructions, but if you need more help, please feel free to contact me here or leave me a voice mail (click the button on the right-hand side of the browser). I would be glad to answer any questions about any of these activities.
These icebreaker games can be used by themselves, at a retreat, or you can use them as part of a larger team building event. I have divided them into three categories:
The Purpose of Icebreaker Games
Icebreaker activities are used to “break the ice” and have people begin to interact and get to know each other or help increase team spirit. They are not meant to be heavy or intense mental or physical exercises (although there is a time and place for those).
These are meant to be fun and lively to get the group engaged and begin to break down barriers in team issues, such as trust and communication. You won’t solve major problems with these games, but you will begin to break down some walls.
1.) Numbered Groups
This is a great activity for dividing groups into a certain number. If you want people to get in groups of 4, for example, use this game to get them there (but not right away).
Tell the group that, in a moment, you’re going to call out a number, and when you do, they are to get into groups with others, in that exact number. If there are any remaining, then they will be “out”. So everyone must do their best to get into these groupings as quickly as possible.
Do a couple of practice rounds to get people used to how the activity will go. Use a variety of large and small numbers (this will depend on your group size as well). During the practice, people won’t be “out” but remind them that once you start, if they are left out, they will be out.
Go through several rounds, weeding out people as you go. You can go until there’s just 2-3 people left and then start over. When you’re ready to get the groups into their final groups, call out the number you need. You might have to rearrange some groups at this point, but it’s a fun way to get them there (way more fun than just having them count off 1, 2, 3, etc.)
2.) Man – Gun – Bear
This game is a full-body version of rock-paper-scissors. It’s a fun icebreaker game for your team and gets everyone engaged.
Players start out back-to-back. When the facilitator counts to 3, the players jump around to face each other and pick one of the following choices:
a. Man – This is a man in a karate pose, and as the player turns around, they yell, “Hi-yah!”
b. Gun – Get out your shotgun and yell “ka-boom” as you turn around and face your opponent.
c. Bear – Let out your most ferocious “Grrr!” as you turn around and pose like a bear.
The way this works is the man beats the gun (chops or kicks it out of their oppenent’s hand).
The gun beats the bear.
The bear beats the karate man.
And if you tie, both die.
Before you start the game, make sure all of the players know the rules and who beats who. You can say it in chant, and get all of your team to say it with you. Repeat it a few times to let it sink in. Then, do two or three practice rounds and let your team figure out their strategy.
Once the practice rounds are over, start the game. The game continues until there are 2 opponents left and there is either one winner, or if the last 2 tie, they both die, and you can start the game over.
3.) Massage Line
The purpose of this exercise is to get your team loosened up and more comfortable with each other. I typically use this in a multi-day event as an early-morning wake-up and to start breaking down walls for the challenges to come.
Have the team stand in one long line, everyone facing the same way and get close enough to reach the shoulders of the person in front of you.
Take the team through rubbing the shoulders of the person in front of them. Start with a good massage rub, have them do some karate chops, some fist pounding (always keeping it non-violent!), scratching and light rubbing in the end. Make sure they also keep it above the person’s equator!
When you have finished the first round, you can say something like, “In almost every major philosophy or religion, there is a saying that talks about sowing and reaping. And it goes something like this, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’” Have the team about-face and repeat the process to the person that was behind them and is now in front of them.
Get-to-Know-You Icebreaker Activities
4.) Human trains
In this game, you need enough chairs for everyone on your team. The object of this icebreaker is to get to know the other people in your group.
a.) What is something unique about you?
b.) What was/is your favorite subject in school?
c.) What is something unique that is in your dorm room (office)?
d.) If you weren’t working at your current job, what would be your dream job?
e.) What has been your favorite vacation spot?
f.) Where would you like to go on vacation that you haven’t visited?
g.) Who has been your favorite teacher and why?
There is a little bit of setup for this activity. You need 2 rows of chairs that are side-by-side. One row faces one way and the other row faces the other way so that people should be sitting side-by-side facing opposite directions (and they should have a teammate in front of and behind them unless they are either first or last).
Only one row of people will move, the other row stays put. The row that doesn’t move will be the questioners. The other row will answer the questions. Each questioner gets an envelope that has strips of paper with the questions above on them.
Play the Game!
The questioner has 2-3 minutes (decide on a specific amount of time) to ask questions and asks as many questions as possible in the time allotted. Once the time is over, everyone stops and the row that answered the questions moves forward (the person in the front will go to the very back of the chair line). [Find an illustration for the chairs.]
After the game is over, have people volunteer unique answers that either they or their team mates discovered during the activity.
5.) The Name-Action Game
In this icebreaker game, the goal is to learn everyone’s names. This is done by pairing an action with each person’s name and then repeating it until everyone has introduced themselves.
Have the team get in a circle and spread out enough to where everyone can move a bit and won’t be crowded.
Play the Game!
The first person introduces herself, and then picks some kind of motion to represent her. For example, Sally says, “Hi, I’m Sally” and then does a ballet twirl. Everyone responds, “Hi Sally”, and then everyone does the ballet twirl. After the second person goes, the group says their name, does the action, and then repeats the first person’s name and action. This continues until all team members have introduced themselves.
6.) Name Samurai
This game is a good game to get to know people’s names. The object of the game is to keep from being hit by the person in the middle and becoming “it”.
Have everyone sit in a circle with feet straight out. Leave enough room for a person in the middle to move around a bit (but not too much). Then, have everyone go around the circle and introduce themselves. Feel free to have them say their name and favorite movie, color, etc.
There will be one person in the middle, and one person who starts the game who is in the circle. To start the game, the designated person in the circle says their name and then someone else’s name (also in the circle, i.e. ‘Bob to Mary'”). Then the next person says their name and someone else’s name. This continues until someone is hit by the Name Samurai.
Play the Game!
The person in the middle, The Name Samurai, will be given a foam pool noodle and will try to hit the feet of the person who is speaking. If the Name Samurai succeeds, the person who got hit becomes it, and the person who was it takes their place in the circle.
Have your team play a few rounds until you feel the team knows everyone’s name.
Problem-solving Icebreaker Activities
7.) Rope handcuffs
This is one of the problem-solving icebreaker activities I’ve used with teens and adults alike. It can be used to show how “independent” we get and not ask for help if we need it. The object of the game is to remove the rope handcuffs without actually taking them off. There is a way to do it; although, it is quite amusing to see people try to figure out how to do it!
Instructions: For this icebreaker, you need to get some p-cord and make enough rope handcuffs where you have one per player. The handcuffs are made by tying off a loop at both end of the p-cord (big enough for hands to go through). You also need to leave at least 12 – 18” between the loops to give each play enough room to maneuver to get the handcuffs off.
Watch this video to see how to setup and play the game, and the secret for removing the rope.
8.) Human Knot
This icebreaker activity is a good one to get people starting to touch and get close. If you have a group that is not familiar with each other, I would not necessarily start with this one. The object of this activity is to get the group untangled from the knot that you are about to put them in. (Sometimes, you may end up with 2 different circles, and that’s ok).
Have your team stand in a circle and then move in to where they can reacch out and grab someone else’s hand. The rules are that they can’t grab both hands of the same person nor can the grab the hand of someone right next to them (it’s better to reach across the circle.)
Play the game:
Once the team has formed the circle and grabbed hands with 2 different people, their job is to get themselves untangled without letting go of any hands. (Safety note: If it looks like it might be virtually impossible for somone to get untangled without ripping off a limb or serious injury, give a couple of free passes to let go of hands breifly to avoid injury.)
The activity is over once the group has successfully become untangled.
9.) Group Juggle
If you need one of your icebreaker activities to help a group learn names, this is a great one! The goal of this exercise is to juggle multiple objects around the group without dropping them.
Even though this is an icebreaker, you can use this to talk about goal-setting and problem-solving as well.
Have the group stand in a circle. The first task of the group is to set the order that they will juggle. Pick one object that is fairly easy to throw. Hand it to one of the team members and tell them that they are about to set the order that they will toss the object and this order will remain the same throughout the rest of the game (this is very important). Here are the rules:
a. You must toss the object underhand.
b. You must say the name of the person before you toss it (safety).
c. You cannot hand it or toss it to someone right next to you (tell them it’s better if they toss it across the circle).
d. Everyone gets it one time except for the person it starts with and once everyone else has gotten it one time, the object comes back to the starting place.
e. If you do not know someone’s name, you may ask, but you must say the name before you throw the object.
f. You may not switch positions with anyone in the circle or move from your place.
Play the game!
Have the group now set the order, making sure they follow all the rules. Once the order is set, see if they can get the object all the way around the circle without dropping it. Have them do this 1 -2 more times without dropping it. Then tell the group that you want them to do it again and say, “No matter what happens, keep going.” At this point have the first person start tossing the first object. Once it gets 2-3 people along, introduce a second object, then a 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
The game gets fun and crazy at this point! Once they have finished tossing all the objects around the circle, ask them about their experience. Now, have the group set a goal to see how many objects they can get all the way around the circle without dropping any of them. [The group can also set a goal to give themselves some leeway. For example, the group would set a goal of getting 5 objects around the tossing order with 2 drops.] Most groups will challenge themselves to get all the objects around the group without dropping any. If they do not and are successful at their goal, challenge them to make a harder goal and go for it!
10.) Warp Speed
The object of this game is to see how quickly team members can pass an object from person to person. I often go into this icebreaker activity from Group Juggle (above) and have them keep their same order.
Keeping the same tossing order from the Group Juggle, have your group pick one of the objects that they want to use for this activity. Tell them the object of the game.
Rules: The object must touch everyone in the group and the tossing order must remain the same. Those are now the only 2 rules.
Play the game!
Have a stopwatch or phone ready to time the group. This can get very fast! Tell the group when to start and have them yell out when they are done so you know when to stop the clock. Continue to challenge them until they think they’ve gotten the best time possible, and then challenge them some more!
I’ve had groups complete the task in under 2 seconds, so make sure you have a stopwatch and a quick trigger finger. Continue to challenge the group to get better and better. (You can even tell them you’ve heard of groups who have done it in less than 2 seconds to get the competitive juices flowing).
Debriefing Icebreaker Activities
I typically debrief most activities, including some of these listed above. Every moment is a moment that we can learn something about ourselves or others. Stopping to reflect takes just a few minutes, but can pay off in dividends down the road.
Here are six quick questions you can use to debrief icebreaker games:
1.) What worked?
2.) What didn’t work?
3.) What would you do differently if you were to repeat this activity?
4.) What did you learn about each other?
5.) What did you learn about yourself?
6.) How can you apply what you’ve learned to your work, school, life, etc.?
What other team building activities have you used with your group? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!
Image credit: anpet2000 / 123RF Stock Photo