we’re supposed to do ice-breakers at every single meeting, even routine ones

A reader writes:

I’m curious what you think about ice-breaker questions as openers for work meetings. I know the idea is to help people get to know another and to encourage everyone to speak up during a meeting. But at my current job they’ve felt overdone.

We have an ice-breaker at the beginning of every meeting that isn’t a one-on-one (or org-wide). Whoever facilitates has to think of one for each of our small weekly team meetings and we’re running low on new ideas. Most icebreakers are silly and lighthearted (food, hobbies, tame would-you-rathers), but I’ve also been in diversity-focused cross-team meetings where an HR executive is asking us to be vulnerable, with sensitive questions about personal identities and experiences. For the silly ones, we can end up spending up to 20 minutes of an hour-long meeting just chatting (in large part because for my immediate team, we’re all already friendly with one another).

I’m expected to do ice-breakers at meetings I facilitate and am tempted to drop them for most. Personally, I see the value when there are new members of a team in their first couple of weeks of work, and maybe in interdepartmental meetings where there may be colleagues meeting for the first time. I’ve also tried to think of good work-related questions that were met with near silence, which was worse than simply jumping into the agenda.

Are these really helpful or just one of those work trends that management has gotten hooked on? Does it matter that we’re mostly on video calls vs in person? Am I weird for not caring which emoji my teammates use most?

You’re not weird. This requirement is weird.

Ice-breakers have their place. They can be useful when you have a bunch of new people who need to work together. Even then, though, they’re not essential! People still manage to work together effectively without playing “two truths and a lie” or knowing each other’s favorite animal. But they can get people to relax around each other faster than they otherwise might. They can also be useful at the start of a meeting where you need people to be creative or just in a different mode than they’re normally in; they can jog people out of their normal work-meeting mindset, and sometimes you need that.

But the idea that they’re a good use of time before every routine meeting is bizarre.

And that’s before we get into the serious problems with “vulnerability” at work and sensitive questions about people’s possibly marginalized identities — which is really its own separate problem, aside from the ice-breaker overkill.

Please do follow your instinct to drop them. I guarantee you some of your coworkers will be grateful (and seeing you do it might give others permission to stop doing it in their own meetings too).

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. Irish Teacher*

    I have a suspicion that many times when people use icebreakers for everything, they are either just trying to kill time because they aren’t sure how to begin or they’ve just gotten it in to their heads that this is how you begin a meeting.

    Surely, the point of ice breakers is to break the ice between a group of people who don’t know each other and may feel awkward starting a discussion with people they don’t know well. I would argue that if there is ice that needs to be broken between a team that meets regularly and works closely together, you have bigger problems and they won’t be solved by a game. Though this doesn’t sound like the case with your team, so I am guessing they are just thinking of them as “introductory activities” and “the done thing” rather than expecting them to have any actual point.

    1. John Smith*

      I’m reminded of my manager who, during the plague, held an online team meeting and asked us all to introduce ourselves, what we do, blah blah. It was very awkward, as we’ve all been there for at least 5 years. There was no one new or unknown to us. It was just our boss thinking he’s actually good at his job. After the second awkward introduction, people started taking the mick out of themselves (think for example “I’m john and I’m an alcoholic…. oops sorry, wrong meeting!” Or pretensing to be a TV personality). We’ve not had a team meeting since, thank god.

    2. Always a Corncob*

      My work has a weekly Monday meeting with a dozen (remote) people where everyone shares something fun they did over the weekend. It’s quick and a nice, light way to get to know coworkers. Little things like “Sam knits afghans” or “Becky has a niece who just turned 3” “Dave likes Marvel movies” that can help professional relationships feel a little warmer. (You can literally say anything you want, it doesn’t have to be big or widely accepted as “fun.” People have said things like “I took a nap” and it’s all good.)

  2. Cafe au Lait*

    My work started doing an ice breaker before meetings, and I liked it. All we did was discuss what we left in order to attend the meeting we were currently sitting in.

    It was a nice mix of getting to know people, and creating connections to change how work was performed.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      That is a good “icebreaker” for work.

      Ice breakers are not needed in meetings where everyone knows one another and there’s no ice (chill) that needs breaking.

      1. Mockingjay*

        My company follows a certain productivity method that includes weekly team meetings (a good thing). However…each and every meeting has to start with “Personal and Business Bests.” We have to list something positive from the previous week about our personal life (I lie a lot about watching movies that I didn’t go to) and a business accomplishment (which, for Project Always Fail, I also have to stretch the truth). It can chew up 20 – 25 minutes, because there are always one or two people with Stories To Tell.

        I loathe it. But it’s one annoyance in a decent company, so I deal with it. Mostly by claiming bandwidth issues so I can turn the camera off (I work remotely) and work on something else while I listen, and chime in here and there.

        1. OyHiOh*

          My org follows a similar productivity method, but ours is customer/employee headlines, is strictly time limited, and nobody is required to say anything. Just if there are wins, here’s the space to announce them in.

          1. snoopythedog*

            I think we use the same method. I enjoy the customer/employee headlines, sometimes there’s stuff to report, sometimes we just move on!

          2. Autumnheart*

            We have a similar thing too. Basically a standing agenda item to report on wins, if there’s anything to report. Frequently there isn’t!

            My work had a meeting makeover about a decade ago to cut down on the blahblah, and surprisingly, it stuck. Not that we don’t have chitchat and icebreakers, but not if there are more pressing items on the agenda.

          3. allathian*

            Yes, this. Having an opportunity to share and celebrate a win with coworkers is one thing. Forcing people to waste time and invent some “win” for a meeting is just that, wasting time.

    2. All Het Up About It*

      This is a good icebreaker if the OP gets called out for not doing them anymore.
      1)Because it is work related and could spark a beneficial conversation down the line and 2) because it can be used over and over again. Part of the problem with many ice breakers is that they feel like one and done’s. The best are the ones where the answer is going to change with some regularity. “What did you stop working on to come to this meeting?” “What project do you need to finish this week?” The OP should also add more of these to their repertoire, and possibly some that aren’t work related to sprinkle in from time to time. “What are you binging or reading right now?” “What’s the best food you ate last week?” “What’s the last app you opened on your phone.” (That one might be dangerous if people don’t know how to white lie. Ha!)

    3. ferrina*

      I also like ice breakers- in a virtual environment, they can take the place of casual chatting. They aren’t appropriate for every (or even most) meetings, but I love doing them at my weekly team meeting.

      This is a great icebreaker!

    4. Brain the Brian*

      Where I work, this would lead to some awkward conversations about why So-And-So can’t be required to disclose what they’re working on at the moment. Not because our work is in any way confidential, but because people are weirdly overprotective of their work here.

    5. LegalEagle*

      My boss does a Question of the Day in our team meetings, and her questions are always so fun that it’s a highlight of the meeting for me. It’s a small team, so this takes up less than 10 minutes, and it’s a great way to continue to get to know people, particularly since a lot of our team is remote. But I know that this is only great because the quality of her questions are so great.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        Can you share some of her questions? Does she come up with them on her own or does she have one of those question card packs?

  3. Bookworm*

    If any of these are virtual meetings, you may be able to dramatically cut down on the time sink while still following expected procedure by having people put their answer in the chat. Give folks a minute to think/respond, and a couple minutes to read, comment etc, and move on!

    1. Brokenice*

      Bonus: take advantage of people arriving over the course of a few minutes for this (like ‘as we’re waiting for a few more people, write your favorite kind of apple in the chat’)

      1. Yay! I’m a Llama Again!*

        Ooh that’s a good idea! I like that, the first few minutes whilst we ‘wait for people to join’ always annoys me!

    2. M_Lynn*

      Agreed! I’m in an org that is pro-friendly banter and does a lot of icebreakers. But they shouldn’t take 20 mins of an hour-long meeting! That isn’t the purpose. Your problem is less about a weird mandate for icebreakers and more that your org has terrible meeting facilitators.

      1. CheesePlease*

        I think it’s a bit of both. The weird icebreaker mandate (without clear guidelines) coupled with inefficient meetings creates this problem. Having icebreakers in the chat or creating a poll people can answer (pumpkin pie or pecan pie?) helps break the ice but is much more efficient than “go around the room and share your favorite holiday memory”. If the icebreaker rule is to be efficiently implemented and followed, it should have boundaries

        1. ferrina*

          A couple weeks ago we had a heated in-chat meeting about the best Halloween candy even while the regular meeting was going on (the meeting was really routine). The presenter didn’t mind, and would occasionally interrupt herself to respond to the chat argument. It was hilarious! (this isn’t a regular occurrence, but this also wasn’t the first time this had happened)

    3. nnn*

      I like this idea!

      Also, I find that once you’ve “broken the ice” of using the chat, people often tend to use it as a back-channel for casual conversation alongside the actual meeting – things like reacting to what’s being said with a gif, or commenting “I don’t know if anyone has ever uttered that sentence in human history”, or posting the relevant xkcd.

      If that’s the kind of camaraderie you want to cultivate, this is a low-cost (in terms of time and emotional labour) way to do it.

    4. Aerin*

      My org has occasionally done polls in the meeting chat, in situations where everyone already knows each other. It gives a little fodder for the start-of-meeting chit chat, but doesn’t require you to go around the room having everyone say their bit. And, as others have noted, if it inspires discussion that tends to take place in the chat rather than aloud.

      My favorites are the ones where they ask everyone to drop a GIF in chat. Sometimes there will be a theme, sometimes it’s just whatever you feel like sharing.

  4. Whatever*

    We had a very long winded team member who always wanted to talk about our weekends in our Monday morning meetings and another person had a genius idea to deal with it. She would ask us each to describe our weekend with three words. It made the whole thing take less than 5 minutes and kept the long winders to brevity. If you have to keep doing ice breakers (which are dumb in this context) maybe always do three words about whatever.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      * shudders* I would hate those. I mean every time? The first few times ok let’s warm up, but after that let’s get to business ( I’m a weirdo who even has trouble coming up with positive things for the week. Even if I had a good week my mind blanks)

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Oh God..what sn embarrassing nesting fall. I actually liked the idea even if I hate ice breakers

    2. ecnaseener*

      I like this idea, or anything else with a specific, tiny word count — like “how do you feel about [the weather] in a scale of 1 to 10”

      1. no longer working*

        Either/or would work, too.
        Coffee or tea?
        Summer or winter?
        Cats or dogs?
        Picasso or Van Gogh?

          1. Empress Matilda*

            I don’t know if this is a Canadian thing, but I do know that many people have Big Feelings on the question of raisins in butter tarts. Definitely could be used as a yes/no icebreaker with the right crowd!

        1. I’m screaming inside too*

          Love this!
          Cake or pie?
          Jazz or metal?
          Sweet or savory?
          Pajamas or sweats?
          Mac or PC?

        2. Nightengale*

          I have trouble with a lot of those. Often I am not into either option or don’t know enough to have an opinion, but it is stuff where everyone is expected to be familiar. Yes/no is much better.

  5. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    OP, the first time you skip the ice breaker you might want to mention up front that you won’t be doing them and why, so anyone who expected the routine isn’t suddenly jolted

  6. Zorak*

    This is bananas. It turns icebreakers from a moderately useful tool for specific circumstances into a ritual performed for its own sake.

    At a routine meeting, not among strangers… what ice is there to break??

    1. djc*

      Exactly. Most of my meetings are with the same groups of people. Sometimes there is informal chat while people join the call, but doing a specific ice breaker each time would be a bit much. I also have work to do and would like for the meeting to end faster so I can get back to my TPS reports.

    2. Lydia*

      “We’re meeting to do an ice breaker.”

      “Thank you for your time. We’ll meet again next week to do ice breakers.”

    3. Sorrischian*

      I have repeatedly suggested that my team only do icebreakers in our weekly meetings for the first month after we get a new team member and been thoroughly shot down every time. I’m so, so tired of these inane questions, and it’s doubly galling on days where we actually have more discussion items than we could get to in our scheduled time, and then we waste fully a quarter of that time on icebreakers!

    4. Here for the Insurance*

      Absolutely, it’s ridiculous.

      My team is made of people who have been here 10 or 20 years. Some even went to high school together. We interact all. the time. As Ron White said in one of his routines, “We’ve met.”

      If someone insisted on doing meeting icebreakers, they’d think that person’s cheese had slipped off their cracker.

  7. yetelmen*

    I was in a meeting yesterday afternoon that we knew we had limited time for, the facilitator acknowledged we had limited time for, and we *still* did an icebreaker (what is your Thanksgiving tradition or something along those lines) that ate up way too much time. Ice breakers have their place! Use them wisely.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      Ugh, I wish people who insisted on this at least made it optional. I don’t mean to be #noteveryonecanhavesandwiches, but holidays can be tough to talk about for some people, who are alienated from family, or have lost a loved one, or are far away or whatever.

      I remember one meeting everyone had to say what they had done for Mothers Day and everyone was a parent except me. “Oh, so did you do something with your mom?” “No, she passed away [but thanks so much for making me feel awkward in front of everyone]”

      1. yetelmen*

        Right? My answer was running the turkey trot, because it was the only alone time I would get before observing (and not participating in) my family’s tradition of getting drunk and staying too long. (I didn’t quite say it like that…)

        I was at a conference related to this organization (it’s a volunteer thing) and they did an icebreaker where everyone had to say the favorite Christmas gift they’ve ever given. Not a lot of thought going into how these are going to land with people.

        1. Observer*

          Ouch. How did that do? Do they really not have a single person who doesn’t actually celebrate Chrismas?

      2. Grace*

        “Oh, my family doesn’t do Mother’s Day because one of my siblings died that weekend and it’s too hard on Mom to think about it.” (True story. It’s been over a decade, so it’s not raw or anything, but we still don’t do anything for Mother’s Day.)

        I can tone that down to “my family prefers not to, for personal reasons”, but people just keep pushing sometimes and it’s hard not to tell them the truth.

        1. Kevin Malone*

          Sometimes the hard truth is the best way to shut things down. Certainly it makes them all feel super awkward for continuing to press, especially if it’s particularly sad.

    2. Kate*

      This happens at my kid’s school for parent meetings; it’s a small class of 18 kids, all of the families have been in this class from 4-10 years.

      Every single meeting we go around the room to “introduce” ourselves and say who were are and how long we’ve been with the school, and half the time there’s also an icebreaker question to answer.

      Last month we had 40 minutes for the meeting and this going around the circle question took 35 minutes. Once again, we didn’t get to the agenda items. I appreciate the social time, but I HATE IT SO MUCH that we waste half an hour every single meeting introducing ourselves to a group in which the no one has been there for less than 4 years.

      1. yetelmen*

        Yep, we had to table one of the important agenda items because we didn’t have enough time to give it the consideration it needed.

        At another remote, large meeting my org held monthly (30+ people not co-located), we took roll call out loud, and that was about as painful and time wasting as an icebreaker. We eventually managed to get that removed from the agenda.

      2. Katie*

        Haha, when we had such a parent meeting and the teacher asked us all to tell our names and add something about ourselves (some told how happy they are to be there and some about how they belong to parental commitee), I went with “Hello, I’m Katie and I need to leave this meeting as 6 pm sharp”. Made people a bit less long-winded and I didn’t need to explain later why I was sneaking out!

      3. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        A certain exec does this, wasting 35 minutes of a 45 minute meeting, because she is never prepared with an agenda.

  8. soontoberetired*

    I loath ice breakers. Yeah, they can be helpful in “breaking the ice” but so many of them end up being inappropriate, and they can take up too much time if the group is big. I work with a PM who uses them to the extreme including at a meeting he called as an emergency. I was not pleased, and let him know it.

    1. yetelmen*

      Oh my, I cannot imagine the tone deafness of calling an emergency meeting and not just getting right down to it.

  9. Bernice Clifton*

    I think it can have it’s place for salespeople and other jobs where you they want you to be able to think on your feet, but definitely not the “time where you were vulnerable”.

    I worked for a company where leadership seemed to value people sharing traumatic stories that were at best uncomfortable to listen to and at worst triggering, and I felt like I couldn’t say anything about it.

  10. Desiree*

    This kind of thing can work well when time-boxed, optional, and not overly personal. Humans benefit from regular connection! But it’s easy to be too heavy-handed.

    Ex: we spend the first 3, max 5, mins of a biweekly team meeting chatting around a prompt like “Would you rather visit outer space or the bottom of the ocean?” if someone came up with one, or else something like “who has fun plans this weekend?”. But it’s not go-around-and-everyone-answer–people who want to answer do and the meeting facilitator transitions into the real agenda after a few mins. It’s a space to build camaraderie (esp for distributed team) and barely takes more time than we’d otherwise burn waiting for people to join the zoom.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      This is the only kind of ice-breaker I can stand. Outer-space vs bottom-of-the-ocean are very theoretical, would be fun to find out a team member has actually visited one/both, isn’t religious or culturally specific, doesn’t require me to actually reveal anything. Perfect.

  11. By Golly*

    One way to get around the ice breaker is to use it for some business-related purpose. “Let’s have everyone share one idea for X agenda item as we get started today.” Not sure if there are company required parameters for the ice-breakers, but this would seem like you were following the rule while still being efficient with time.

  12. Miss Muffet*

    I just keep thinking about how hard it would be to keep coming up with something new for all of these routine meetings! And how that starts turning into a real time-suck and as a manager, I have better things to do with that prep time!

  13. KoiFeeder*

    Honestly, sometimes an icebreaker question about my favorite pizza is too vulnerable for me due to disability reasons. Which I guess gets into “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory, but it’s another anecdatal point about how icebreakers are not often well-thought out, especially for groups that already know each other.

    1. Cherry*

      Ugh, I used to have this terrible illness and literally anything along these lines would make me want the ground to swallow me up and give me thoughts of how disgusting I was and how everyone else would hate me no matter what I answered.

      I mean, I was much younger then and in case anyone reading this thinking it sounds silly, it sounds a bit silly to me too now. But it’s true!

    2. Dinwar*

      Yeah, even apparently-innocuous ones can be really bad.

      For me, it’s “What’s your favorite song/musician/band?” It’s all tied up in a suicide attempt and a few people making spirited attempts at murdering me; not exactly a great thing to be reminded of right before we go over the company-mandated revisions to TPS form formats! Without knowing a LOT more about me than most people at work ever will there’d be no way to know, though. Folks tend not to bring such things up in office settings. And a lot more people have histories that include such things than folks realize.

      It’d be one thing if these were even tangentially related to the job–if someone asked favorite music so that they could put music on in the office, or asked everyone’s favorite pizza in an honest attempt at providing an enjoyable lunch, or something like that. But icebreakers are utterly irrelevant.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        My condolences. I hope those people are no longer in a position where they can attempt to murder anyone, and I hope you’re so far removed from them these days that they never cross your mind.

      2. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

        Can’t you just name literally any other band/song/musician if/when it comes up? It’s an icebreaker, not a polygraph test.

        1. the charioteer*

          yeah, if even a mention of the word music will traumatize you, that’s moved from workplace icebreakers to almost any moment in life and you need to learn to say a random band

    3. Roland*

      Right, like you must allow people to sit out without making it weird. I had to ask a manager once to not call me out when I skipped ice breaker questions – she answered that oh of course it’s not a problem if I ever don’t want to answer! At which point I had to remind her that it wasn’t a hypothetical, she HAD been calling me out to answer when I tried to quietly opt out. Sigh.

    4. meeting grump*

      yeah, we had back to back meetings about weight bias and then an all-staff that had an ice breaker about food and I was like “hi hello we literally JUST spent an hour on eating disorders???” I don’t disclose this stuff at work because it’s private, could we not?

    5. Nightengale*

      yes it’s supposed to be light and everyone can relate to and now suddenly I am being put on the spot to explain that I don’t like any pizza (sensory thing)

  14. Glazed Donut*

    OP, before I changed jobs a few months ago I was the person in charge of ice breakers for *every single weekly team meeting.* I was an individual contributor on the team–not a manager or any kind of special person-focused role/facilitator. I was also the youngest on the team.
    I hated them and was told “your ice breakers are so good!” as though it took special talent. My resentment for a non-promotable task grew each month. This continued for almost a year (weekly!) before I left that team. I wish I had a clever or thoughtful way to explain to my boss that I didn’t want to do it, but I never came up with something professional other than “I don’t want to” or “This isn’t a real job responsibility” so I never said anything.

  15. In favour of ice breakers*

    There is research showing that in a classroom setting, students who speak within the first 5 minutes are way more likely to speak again. So if you have a meeting where everyone should participate actively, getting everyone to talk at the beginning of the meeting is super important.

    1. Dinwar*

      My first question is, are the students who speak in the first five minutes more likely to speak again because they’ve already spoken, or are the students who speak in the first five minutes typically the students who are going to speak more anyway? What, in other words, is the causal direction?

      My second is, if this is a meeting where everyone should be actively participating, shouldn’t the meeting facilitator ensure that this is taking place? If you need a psychological hack like this you’re running a bad meeting.

      1. All Water No Ice*

        Yeah, I am an introvert, and I prefer to be asked a specific question relevant to the discussion to make sure I’m heard, rather than just arbitrarily being forced to answer an icebreaker. I’m very good at not talking for the rest of the meeting regardless, lol.
        So rather than an icebreaker, I’d like the facilitator to notice I haven’t spoken and ask, “AllWater, you work with the teapot paint regularly, what do you think of the paint brand change?” Etc

      2. Observer*

        What, in other words, is the causal direction?

        Yes. That’s the key question.

        if this is a meeting where everyone should be actively participating, shouldn’t the meeting facilitator ensure that this is taking place?

        Yes. 100%

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Where? What were the limitations of the study? What type of “speaking” was required? How large was the group? How many times was it repeated, and did the same result persist?

      But also, just because something is (maybe, with limitations) effective as a classroom management tool does not mean that it will be effective, necessary, or worthwhile in a professional setting.

    3. PollyQ*

      Even assuming that making people talk in the first 5 minutes helps them to talk more later, it doesn’t mean that “fun” icebreakers are good or necessary. You could just as easily go around the table and ask people what they’re hoping to get out of the meeting or another on-topic question.

      1. mysisterworksforanMLM*

        exactly… and also maybe the other people do not participate because of other reasons. in my experience a lot of incompetent managers do these ice breakers without wondering if 1) people aren’t talking because the meeting isn’t relevant to certain people, 2) they create an environment that makes participating frustrating, 3) they have repetitive, useless meetings

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yeah, it’s a totally different context. Most often in a classroom, the classes are too large for real discussion, the professor does most of the talking and solicits limited input from the class, the students are all in the position of “learner,” and most of the students will either not particularly know each other, or have social relationships with each other. Often if the goal is for everyone to participate, it’s because the instructor believes that active participation will increase students’ absorption and retention of the material, and the challenge is to overcome people who are not inclined to speak on topics they barely know or are just learning about in a “public” setting.

        In a workplace, in the type of meeting where everyone is supposed to participate, there’s most likely going to be a smaller (often much smaller) group of people, there might be a facilitator but they aren’t usually spending the bulk of the time lecturing to the attendees, the other attendees are there because they’re subject matter experts in different areas, and they have working rather than social relationships with each other. And if it’s being done for routine meetings, they probably have a good working understanding of each other’s competencies and areas of specialized responsibility in a way that students aren’t typically as aware of their classmates’ competencies and specializations. If the goal is for everyone to participate, it’s because the facilitator believes that each person represents a different viewpoint based on the part of the work they’re involved in, and the facilitator wants to ensure that all relevant information that could affect any part of the work is considered before decisions are made. The setting likely feels much less “public” and socially fraught for coworkers than students in a classroom, and the topic – presumably something along the lines of “how will X impact your work” or “based on the work you do, is X feasible or would another approach be better” – is something workers are less likely to lack confidence talking about, since it’s literally speaking to their experience of doing their job every day and quizzing them on new material that was just introduced.

    4. Claire*

      Your first sentence doesn’t actually have anything to do with your second sentence. Meetings are not classrooms; employees are not children; meeting facilitators are not teachers; there’s no way to tell from your description whether children were randomly assigned to speak in the first five minutes or stay quiet; and many, many more limitations.

      1. ferrina*

        Ex-teacher current-facilitator here! There’s more similarities than I’d like to admit, especially if you have a socratic method. The same techniques for guiding class discussions can be used for guiding meetings.

        -Each class/meeting should have a purpose.
        -Each class/meeting should have an agenda, and ideally the facilitator will know how much time each item should have in order to get through everything (lesson plan is an agenda)
        -Each class/meeting should have a format- is there a single speaker (or a few), or is this an exchange of ideas that is being facilitated?
        -Each class/meeting should end with an understanding of follow-up actions (whether it’s next steps in that project, or homework)
        -Class/meetings can be derailed by that one person that Won’t. Stop. Talking.
        -Information is absorbed/exchanged better when people aren’t bored/feel like they are wasting their time.

        And I hate to say, I’ve used same techniques with preschoolers as I have with certain CEOs. The biggest difference is the degree of autonomy and amount of experience that the adults have. Some adults also have articulation and emotional intelligence that kids don’t, but definitely not all.

    5. ferrina*

      I’ve found this to be true. I’m a former educator and currently professional facilitator/interviewer (it’s one of many hats I wear), and some people do have a mental barrier to entry. It’s especially true with less talkative folks.

      I used to work at a social media company, and it’s also something that we see in online communities – once someone posts their first comment, they are way more likely to engage with future posts.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      That’s exactly why teachers use cold calling, pose, pause, pounce, bounce and why schools have policies of no shouting out, or raising hands. It’s not really suitable for adults. There are over talkers in all classrooms who are inclined to use all the oxygen (boys are known to talk over girls to an alarming degree for example and you can’t really let that happen) and a good facilitator knows how to get everyone to be part of the discussion.

    7. Observer*

      There is research showing that in a classroom setting,

      This is not a classroom setting. So there’s that.

      So if you have a meeting where everyone should participate actively, getting everyone to talk at the beginning of the meeting is super important

      Assuming that this is relevant, it’s even more important not to do stupid “ice breakers”. Even more important is to make sure that the activity, whatever it might be is SHORT because otherwise, you lose the whole “first 5 minutes” advantage. And, most basically, that can ONLY *possibly* work if what the person is forced to say is positive or at least *neutral* to them. If someone is being *forced* to speak about something that is not work related, then it’s almost certainly not going to be positive.

      I’m not a teenager anymore, so I’ve obviously had some difficult experiences in my life. If you force me to speak about some of them or find a way to avoid speaking about them, I am going to be a LOT less likely to participate in the rest of the meeting, and if I do I’ll probably be a lot less useful.

      PS- I know that plenty of teen agers have had difficult experiences, so it would be a MAJOR mistake to assume that just because someone is young they couldn’t have any traumatic experiences in their lives. It’s just that by the time someone hits 30 or so, the the chances of not having had something like that is about 0, while for a teen ager the chances are higher. But I’d still be cautious even with youngsters – Like I said, there is plenty of trauma to go around.

  16. CheerfulPM*

    I wonder if you could evolve it away from being an ice-breaker into more a warm way to start a meeting. One that helps people refocus their attention and be present. With my team on virtual meetings, I will often open with a work appropriate “dad joke”. Sometimes it’s a recent article about a piece of software we use or a competitor. Small talk gets boring, so anything to get people to step out of “the weather”, is nice.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      We had a manager who often rubbed my coworkers the wrong way – being brash and abrupt and not particularly open to ideas. He had a one of those trivia of the day calendars. He’d bring in a stack of the questions to the staff meetings and throw a few out to the group at the beginning or the end, which made considerable progress toward smoothing the ruffled feathers in the office. Broke the ice without needing to go around the room or start too many off topic conversations when we all had things to do.

      1. CheerfulPM*

        Ha, that’s fun. I thought you were going to say that he quizzed people on the trivia, but I like the just passing it out. I worked with a manager who would post business specific trivia questions on a white board and then give a prize for the closest guess throughout the day.

    2. ferrina*

      We have someone join our company who quickly became widely known for his dad jokes. He has almost single-handedly increased engagement in all-staff meetings.

  17. sarah*

    I don’t mind ice breakers but I think two truths and a lie needs to be retired. I feel like the stuff that would make the game interesting with people you know isn’t work appropriate so it always turns out like: “I lied, I have two dogs, not two cats” “okay”

    1. Kate*

      Two truths and a lie is truly horrible in a work setting; no one should be forced to reveal things about their personal life at work.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          if the aam commentariat is good for anything, it’s hyperbolic responses to relatively innocuous social interactions

      1. ThatGirl*

        Wow. It can be as innocuous as “my favorite color is blue” or “I have a dog” … these are not deeply personal things here; are you a robot?

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*


      We have a monthly meeting that always ends in some sort of ‘game time’ (yes, I know) and I volunteered to handle that since it doesn’t take much time. Let me tell you, when I look up ‘short games for work zoom’ the number of things that I find that are hugely inappropriate for work are amazing. So many personal intrusive activities!

    3. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

      Yes and I will volunteer to organise the retirement party! I hate two truths and a lie but have never admitted this because I don’t want people thinking I’m a negative Nellie. But really, if I don’t know you then I’m not going to know what you’re lying about and I don’t actually care.

      I remember an absolute cringe-fest once where this game was used as a barely -disguised bragging session. Things like “my lie was that I didn’t run into a burning orphanage and save 13 babies. I actually rescued 14. Haha aren’t I sneaky?”

    4. AA*

      We did one recently where the leadership team had submitted them in advance and we had to match the statements to each person AND guess which ones were the lies and who said them. It was pretty much impossible and ended up with people uncomfortably relying on stereotypes and looks (“he looks like he would lie about how many reps he can do” etc)

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        We had one once where we had to submit in advance but the leadership team then added their own lie into the mix. If we had to add another lie, I’d have preferred to come up with my own rather than have someone make something up for me.

  18. Been there done that*

    It got to the point at my last job, we did these as well…every…single…meeting…we really resented each other eventually (not to mention the unabashed bullying and mean girls atmosphere there) it made me very reserved at my next job. I truly hated ice breakers and still do…the vulnerability ones were the WORST!!!! I seriously got to the point I really didn’t like anyone there and it contributed to a very hostile workplace. They can be beneficial but overdoing them is a detriment to the team/company.

    1. DannyG*

      The vulnerability question would drive me crazy. I wonder if it would be possible to “self-identify” as a curmudgeon (think the two old guys in the balcony on The Muppet Show) and gruffly say that this is a waste of time?

  19. AnonToday*

    Am I the only one with an irrational hatred of Two Truths and a Lie? I’m not a very interesting person, so coming up with something not totally boring, while also not bragging about a fancy overseas trip or whatever is stressful.

    No clue what my coworker at OldJob was thinking, but we had to play that game and while I forget the exact wording, their entries were something like 1) I’m active in the local swinging community; 2) due to my swinging habits I can’t be certain that my child is biologically mine; and 3) I’ve been to Mars. They were not joking.

    1. Jaydee*

      Interesting. Did you work at Planet Express and is your former coworker by any chance Bender Bending Rodriguez?

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I despise two truths and a lie, because it’s a combination of guessing game and social skills that play to my weak points compared to basically any other form of trivia game. However, what I personally do for my three statements is generally to pick a theme, like three movies, which two have/haven’t I watched, so at least I don’t have to spend much time thinking about what my statements should be and I might, best-case scenario, get to have conversations about a movie I liked with someone else who is tired of wandering the room playing the actual game.

    3. UShoe*

      At a work away day once we played a variation where all the lies/truths were written down and put into a hat. When one was pulled out we had to decide true or false and then figure out who it was or who had invested it. One of the slips said “I’m a Romanian orphan” we all pointed the finger at one of the company’s directors (he often made odd jokes like this)…. it was not a joke, it was our new intern.

      We never played that game again.

  20. Roland*

    And I thought it was bad enough that my boss makes us do these at our weekly team meeting. I roll my eyes internally at that but every meeting is literally bonkers OP, please just skip them if you want to.

  21. Dinwar*

    “Okay, for today’s ice breaker I’d like everyone to give me two things that they could be doing with the time saved by not doing this ice breaker.”

    1. PollyQ*

      Right? 20 minutes × however many people are present × multiple meetings/week is a LOT of productive time to spend on this.

  22. morethantired*

    Everyone works remotely at my company, and as a policy we have 5 minutes at the beginning of every meeting to just be social. Sometimes we ask icebreakers for that, but usually it’s just the typical small talk of “anyone have any fun plans for the weekend?” It just helps us connect as people before diving into the work. BUT, it is limited to 5 minutes. If people start to get carried away, the meeting owner brings us back to the agenda. I don’t see the ice breakers as the issue, it’s people not managing the meeting and letting it go off track. Meetings need agendas and someone needs to keep the attendees on track.

    1. LizB*

      This is similar to how I feel. It’s probably my woo-woo nonprofit background talking, but I don’t mind/mostly enjoy the ritual of a quick icebreaker question at pretty much every meeting. I like them as a way to pull everyone’s focus into the meeting and have a moment of connecting with my coworkers as people. They really do have to be quick, though. I like the suggestions elsewhere in this thread of questions that are meant to be answered in 3 words or less, or on a scale of 1-10.

      1. morethantired*

        Well, and the limited time helps keep it TRULY optional. Like in a meeting of 10 people, there is no pressure to pipe up if you don’t want to. The people who actually *want* to talk get to talk for 5 minutes and anyone who doesn’t can just sit quiet for 5 minutes. I love that I can just sit quiet if I’m not feeling it.

    2. All Water No Ice*

      I would love this kind of set time! We take turns facilitating and some folks do a great job of making sure we keep to time. It’s not consistent though, and our manager has put a lot of pressure for us to think of good icebreaker questions so simply chatting about the weekend for five minutes would then be followed by “if your were a kind of potato…?” That’s how these eat up time.

    3. hellohello*

      Same here. My office is fully remote, so if we didn’t have ice breakers at most meetings there are many colleagues I’d never have a reason to speak to. Keeping it to a reasonable time limit and keeping the questions from getting too deep/personal is important, but for a remote team *some* sort of socialization up top of meetings feels pretty important to me. My org is also good at not scheduling unnecessary meetings, so we aren’t doing these multiple times a week, but more like every 2-3 weeks.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. It started when we went fully remote in March 2020, but I find a chat at the beginning of a meeting mostly fun. But it has to be said that my org is big on psychological safety, which means that we’re never forced to be more vulnerable than we feel comfortable being at our meetings.

        I generally want to keep my personal and work lives fairly separate. I’m not on any social media except Whatsapp, but if I were, there’s no way I’d be social media friends with a coworker unless they’ve become more than just a work friend, i.e. a friend-friend. I also wouldn’t be social media friends with a current manager, although I might be with a former one, especially if we’re no longer working for the same employer.

        Nevertheless, I find that sharing some personal info with coworkers, and them telling me some things about their lives, helps build community. But this process can’t be forced, and people need to feel psychologically safe to do that, and that means avoiding intrusive questions.

        Generally, in in-person meetings, there’s often some chatter as people arrive and settle down, and it’s a more natural dynamic, and there’s less need for taking turns to tell something “interesting” about yourself, particularly in meetings where everyone knows everyone else.

        I don’t think I’ve ever had any intentional icebreakers in an in-person meeting unless there was a new participant who joined for the first time, and then it’s always the typical introduction, where in my org at least people tend to state their name and title, perhaps how long they’ve been working for the org and possibly the project that’s currently taking most of their time. The new person sometimes mentions their old employer. Those who want to do so can add a few personal details, such as what they enjoy doing when they aren’t working. At that point, some people mention their kids (I do because being a mom is an important part of my identity, even if not the most important while I’m working), but if you don’t say you have kids, nobody in my team at least will ask you if you have any.

  23. mcm*

    I used to do an icebreaker sort of fun question before our usual meeting for my small team in the last team I ran, and I found it effective. I was trying to figure out why it seemed effective in that context when I agree that before _every_ meeting is way too much, but I think Alison nailed it by saying they can be effective when you’re trying to get people in a different mode than they are normally in. It can be really useful to do an icebreaker even with a small team who all know each other well if you want to set the tone as collaborative, chatty, creative, generative, etc. when that’s not most of your day.
    But yeah, if that’s not the intent, I would definitely drop it

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    Why does anyone want to “break ice” to begin with? Do people know what happens when ice is broken… you fall through to freezing water and you might not survive. Though based on these meetings, maybe it is appropriate after all

    1. Roland*

      Do you mean where the expression came from? From literally breaking ice on top of the water so that boats could sail forward.

  25. meeting grump*

    Is this one of my coworkers?? We do an ice breaker at nearly every meeting as well and I LOATHE it. All-staff meetings for my tiny org (under 50 staff) end up taking twice as long as they should because we spend literally 45-60 minutes doing an ice breaker every time. We have these every 2 weeks and do not usually have new staff! Sometimes it’s something quick and relatively painless like “do you have a costume planned for Halloween next week?” but sometimes it’s “what truly brings you joy?” or “tell us why you love working here” and all I can think is right now I don’t!

    I’ve tried not doing them during meetings I run, but I get overridden by upper management who “suggest” we do one. I have talked with my manager about it. I have declined to participate. Nothing makes them stop. LW, you have my condolences.

    1. All Water No Ice*

      Oh no! My org is bigger so not a coworker, but I feel your pain. If I tried to skip it at a meeting my boss was in, she would insist on one.

      1. meeting grump*

        when it’s all personal stuff and everyone is required to participate, with usually 40ish people at every meeting, even 30s per person is still 20 minutes! worse is that the agenda only ever accounts for 10 max, so we run late or skip actually useful information.

    2. meeting grump*

      For those expressing horror and surprise at the length of time, yes! We have to introduce ourselves, state our full title, pronouns, and then answer the question (which is usually long-ish), then pass it off to the next person. These meetings are all online, so there a lag between hearing yourself called and getting the mic on, etc, or people lose track of who’s already gone so there’s a discussion about who’s left every 5 people. For 40+ people we all already know, every meeting. Even when it goes perfectly and the question is short it ends up being 30s per person, so over 20 minutes. We also never allocate enough time for this due to magical thinking, so we run over or out of time on actually useful stuff.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        welp, sounds like 30 minutes of having one’s camera off and doing something productive or at least interesting in the background. Laundry maybe.

  26. tessa*

    Been here and it’s frustrating, especially when I’m super busy.

    I like them when I’m with people who I don’t know or don’t know very well, but I find them useless with people who I work with every day, as likely a given topic will have come up in casual conversation.

    What I *really* can’t stand is when Nannying Busybody co-worker demands an ice-breaker; I just nope out with something really bland, because she’s using an ice-breaker as an excuse to be a busybody. Seeing her head about to explode is so awesomely satisfying. Ooo…I bad, lol.

  27. YRH*

    At some point in the early days of the pandemic, the small team im a part of started to doing “icebreakers” before every meeting, I think to foster comradery since we’re no longer in the office. I’ve found it awkward but the questions are inocuous (think book and tv show recommendations, what reality/game show would you most want be on, favorite vacation, etc) and it takes 5 minutes. I agree with your instinct to not do them, but it doesn’t seem worth it to push back in my specific environment.

  28. All Water No Ice*

    OP here! I’m feeling pretty relieved as this is the second organization in a row I’ve been in where my manager has made this The Way. It’s just worse in this instance because of the awkwardness of the D&I ones.

  29. Serious Silly Putty*

    I agree this is weird.FWIW, if you need to “play along” but want to keep it short, here are some thing I’ve done for virtual classes to have a moment of “Hello fellow human being who has a life beyond the tasks we’re about to discuss.”

    1. Ask a few basic questions with the answer being on a scale of thumbs up to thumbs down: “how was your lunch today?” “how was your weekend?” “how do you feel about last night’s snow?” Just a 30-second moment to connect. Everyone can see each other’s answers without individually sharing.

    2. “Would you rather” with answers A or B in the chat OR (if you don’t mind being a tad silly) hands on your head for A, hands on your shoulders for B. I did this when part of the day’s activity was evaluating the pros/cons of a situation, and it was space themed since it was an astronaut camp. But you could come up with three food or travel questions, for instance. (“Would you rather pay $5 for gas station sushi or $100 for mystery sushi at a Len upscale restaurant?”) You can have people explain answers or not, but everyone does the initial participation at the same time, so it CAN be done quite quickly.

  30. Von Trousers*

    Yikes! LW is unintentionally punching me in the gut today. I just quit a company yesterday precisely for this reason. Every Monday’s staff meeting began with a “centering session” that sometimes involved the invocation of a “radical attitude spell.” After that 5 minutes, we’d break into smaller groups for 25 minutes of serious boundary violations (e.g.,, What are you most grateful for? What do you dislike most about working here? (duh), What scares you? What moves you? How do you deal with stress or trauma?). In case you were wondering, there were *no* mental health professionals in our organization.

    After all that, we were left with 15 minutes to discuss any work-related topics. So…the 45-minute meeting really required only 15 minutes.

    1. All Water No Ice*

      This is LW: Ahhh so sorry! I would also have left any organization that subjected staff to that. So much yikes.

    2. Martin blackwood*

      im assuming that “radical additute spell”isnt supposed to put you in a bad mood, but i bet thats what it accomplished

  31. Alice*

    I have to work on site two days a week. It’s mostly Zoom calls from my desk in an open office, instead of Zoom calls from my desk at home. But we have an in-person whole-department meeting too, 45 minutes, where our department hears from a guest speaker from another department.
    We routinely go around the room and 40 people say their name and job title and usually people add some rote welcoming sentence “I’m really glad to hear about your interesting work.”
    Why we can’t just give the guest speaker a list of participants in advance, instead of wasting 10 minutes on this, I have no idea. But I guess, instead of being grumpy that I’m wasting time hearing my colleagues tell someone whom they will never see again their names, I should be glad that at least we’re not doing an icebreaker too.

    1. Elitist Semicolon*

      A Famous Author came to do a lunchtime talk here when I was in grad school and opened it by flipping open a notebook and saying, “I like to know who I’m talking to! Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.” They’d been told the format beforehand – 25 to 30 minutes of talk, followed by discussion – but even with ~45 people in the room, still chose to do this (and take notes!). They started their talk about 10 minutes before we usually ended and were surprised and irritated when we started getting up and leaving.

  32. Former call centre worker*

    I was in a session once where a manager insisted that we do ‘two truths and a lie’ as an ice breaker despite all of us already knowing each other. She then revealed as one of her truths that she’d once accidentally killed a family pet!

  33. Baron*

    In 2020, I was working for a non-profit organization focused on racial justice – 99% of the employees weren’t white. My supervisor insisted on cutesy “fun” icebreaker games at every meeting, including our morning huddles. In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, this went over…poorly…with the staff. It’s like, no, Becky, I do not want to guess three fun facts about you this morning, again. Our ED ended up losing her job for letting this culture go on, but somehow, that supervisor is still there. I am not.

    1. 1LFTW*

      Ugh, I hate that supervisors like that exist. Around about the same time, I did an ice breaker that was something like “name one fun fact about your hometown”. Well, mine is Minneapolis, so I said as much, and stopped there.

      *Most* of the people in the room got it… but our resident Becky chirped up with “and what’s one fun fact about it?”.

      In the subsequent two years, she has never failed to disappoint.

  34. Maseca*

    My company also has a big icebreaker culture and it’s incredibly annoying, especially in large meetings where it takes half the meeting time to get through everyone’s rambling answers. Plus we seem to either get really awkward overshare (creepy manager referring to himself as a “plant daddy”) or utter trivia of no interest (Cindy loves pears and James’s favorite animal is a panda).

    Funny story though: Several years ago, my small, fairly businesslike team merged with another that was much, much more share-y and at our first all-team meeting, we did an icebreaker that was basically just “What’s going on in your life right now?” A woman from the former Share Bears team told a long, involved story about how her boyfriend had recently proposed! at a karaoke outing! after singing a particular song! etc. Lots of excitement and squealing, as you can imagine. My coworker from the former Taciturn Team was up next. He goes, “Hi, my name is Joe. I just noticed something’s hanging off my car. Should go get that looked at.” Then looked at the next person in line.

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      Haha, that’s amazing. I’m not especially interested in weddings and public proposals make me uncomfortable, so if you’re not already a friend whose happiness I’m invested in I’m going to sit through the proposal story with an awkward smile plastered to my face.

      Joe as the immediate follow up might make me laugh out loud. I’m an outgoing person, but when it comes to ice breakers, I’m Joe.

  35. Kella*

    If for some reason you’re not allowed to drop the icebreakers entirely, I would closely consider what the intended result of the icebreaker is meant to be. If you already know each other, is it decompressing? Is it transitioning out of your previous task into this one? Is it getting excited and focused? Come up with something quick that targets that specific purpose, preferably something that could be used over and over rather than something that only works once because you only have to get past that initial “I have no idea who you are” stage one time. If there does not appear to be any specific purpose to the icebreaker requirement, then push back on the requirement with management, point out the loss of productive time and the total lack of a goal.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I like this point a lot–what are we trying to achieve? That will guide a lot.

      And I think there’s a bit of value in the transition frivolity, if it’s light.

      You could even start those when most of the people are there, and the late-comers can be the last to answer. It’ll eliminate that “sitting around waiting” moment. And keep people from getting antsy to start on the actual business too soon.

      I do this sometimes with our weekly team meetings. We don’t start until our boss has arrived, so if she’s late, I’ll ask, “who’s reading what?” or “anybody saw a good movie?” It doesn’t involve everyone, but there’s a bit of conversation, and someone always answers, and people converse a bit.

    2. All Water No Ice*

      I genuinely an not sure there is a real purpose for us beyond “I’m told that this makes it more likely for everyone to speak during the meeting”, since that’s the only justification my manager has ever given.
      I would be happy for us to move to just allow greetings and socializing before getting into the agenda, so folks don’t have to share stuff they aren’t comfortable with.

  36. Wednesday*

    Quick icebreaker today: Everyone who wants to skip the regular icebreaker and hopefully finish this meeting early, put up your hands! [whatever the result] Interesting! Okay then, moving on to the agenda….

  37. Alex*

    I was once interviewing with a company and the majority of the interview was with the entire prospective team + their boss. The boss made us all do an icebreaker. It was super weird because we had to stand in a circle and hold hands.

    I declined their job offer.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*


      I’ll say this: sounds like an effective interview process! You did in fact receive valuable information about the company that factored into your decision.

      (translation – you successfully avoided the bees)

  38. Your Computer Guy*

    Before your next meeting, fill a glass partway with ice. At the start of the meeting, put your hand flat over the top of the glass and shake it up vigorously. Declare “the ice is broken!” and then move on to the actual meeting agenda.

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      Oo! A plate with one of those extra large cubes of ice, and a barkeeper’s little hammer for breaking it. A different person breaks it each time.

  39. ASW*

    We have a monthly meeting where the person leading the meeting is supposed to share a favorite leadership quote. I thought that was weird enough but it’s better than an icebreaker. At least I’m not expected to respond to the quote.

    1. Elitist Semicolon*

      I’d be waaaay too tempted to make one up, or to use obscure song lyrics. Like, dig real deep into the back catalogue of a beloved pop star or go for a band no one in the room is likely to have heard of.

  40. ShortySpice*

    At my previous company, the mandated meeting format included an “energizer” activity at the beginning to “get everyone present and focused on the meeting”. There were mixed results but never was it required to “be vulnerable” or share personal stuff. Horrifying!

  41. Beebs*

    There’s a standard “ice breaker” that we often use at my work: how are you today (but really, in a work-appropriate way–from “I just finished a report so I feel great” to “Fine” to “I have some things going on at home, so I might seem a little distracted today”), do you have any time constraints (need to leave 10 minutes early, have a hard stop at 5) and are there any elephants in the room (things we are all thinking about but we haven’t expressed/discussed). Takes about 5 minutes, settles us into the meeting, and–if someone is having a hard day–helps us feel some compassion for how they are showing up that day.

  42. TootsNYC*

    Go around the room and ask people to name a word that begins with the letter of the day. No repeats are allowed.

    Then start the meeting.

    That’ll be short.
    If you wanted, you could ask them to also use the word in a sentence.

    That should be enough, honestly.

    1. TootsNYC*

      After a few meetings when that starts to get old, restrict it to a part of speech (name an adjective, or name an adjective that stars with m).

      Or ask them to name a word related to X topic (give a baseball term: base, home run, fielder, fly ball, umpire, base line). Not as much fun, maybe, but it’ll qualify, and a few people will rack their brains to find something obscure, and a few people will blank, and it’ll be mildly amusing.

      or name a world landmark you’d sort of like to see in person. Don’t give a reason, just name it. Or, let them say why, but in one sentence.

      Anything with a one-word answer that allows for people to make a little bit of choice if they want to.

    2. TootsNYC*

      what’s the last thing you broke?

      when is the last time you were early?

      name an article of clothing you no longer have, but that you miss

      if you could own any car in the world, what would it be?

      what’s a song that makes you nostalgic? Maybe something from high school prom, or college, or other.

      some of these need more thinking, which is sort of derailing. For those, you could offer a bit of support or framing, as I did for the song.

      name a song that begins with W. or has the word “you” in the title (at weddings, they do this with “love,” but that might not be work appropriate)

        1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

          Yeah, like…or you could say, “Hi everyone, thanks for joining! Looks like we’re all here. First item on the agenda is…”

      1. Yay! I’m a Llama Again!*

        I think Icebreakers have their place, but LW is right that every meeting is pointless. But I really appreciate the ones being shared here as my Trainer Toolbox is getting a refill, so thank you so much!

      2. Hrodvitnir*

        Haha, I mean these are fine suggestions but are actually classic ice breakers in that I’d find them awkward and time consuming.

        Even if I can think of a song I won’t remember the name. Cars are a big topic that for many people doesn’t have a quick answer. I can’t think of anything for clothing and many peop le really won’t have an opinion. I’m always early and that could turn into a weird vibe. Unless it was within hours I definitely won’t be able to remember what I last broke.

        Not going out of my way to be awkward! I just find it funny how much none of those are smooth and low-effort for me.

      3. allathian*

        Oof no. All of those require too much thinking for an icebreaker.

        I’m a klutz, so I break stuff all the time. Next question…

        I’m always early, and feel like I’m late if I arrive on the dot. Asking when I was last late would be more to the point. Hard to answer this one without appearing to judge less punctual folks. I may think less of them for being constantly late, but I wouldn’t gain anything by letting my coworkers know that, rather the reverse.

        I don’t care about clothes. At all. I only wear them because for most of the year it’s too cold here to go without, and because I’m modest enough to want to cover up. I can’t even imagine missing a piece of clothing I no longer own. I might be a bit sad that I no longer fit in my old jeans, but that’s related to body image issues rather than a piece of clothing, and it’s not something I’d be willing to reveal at a work icebreaker. Hard pass on this one.

        I only care about cars as a means of getting from A to B. I fundamentally don’t *understand* people who see them as some sort of extensions of themselves.

        The song’s probably the only one I can answer, Heaven by Bryan Adams. I was 13 and it was my first slow dance with a boy at a school disco.

        I write for a living and you’d think that word games would be easy for me, but they aren’t because I tend to overthink them, and can never come up with anything fast. So either everyone else ends up with saying what I was thinking of before I can, or if we take turns, others will have to wait for me to think of something, and it gets embarrassing after more than 15 seconds or so. Hard pass on this one, too.

  43. Calliope*

    If I had to do them, I would vote for doing the same thing every time – “anyone want to give a quick recommendation of a tv show/movie/book/music or a restaurant they enjoyed?” And yeah, put it in the chat of its virtual. That’s actually potentially useful for people and is more likely to lead to further conversations later than what animal everyone identifies with. (Obviously every meeting is still ridic though as a requirement).

  44. mango chiffon*

    I always find ice breakers so awful and uncomfortable as someone who is a “weird” person who finds it embarrassing to talk about my hobbies or what music I listen to because I automatically assume I’ll be judged for not talking about something other people know about.

    And then there was the return to office ice breaker where someone suggested we all say the best and worst things that happened to us during the remote period. Immediately I asked if we could JUST say the best thing, because the worst thing that happened was you know, *gestures at the pandemic toll*

    1. All Water No Ice*

      Thank you for not nipping the “worst” thing, I can’t believe that was asked without any thought! (I mean, I can believe it but ugh)

      1. mango chiffon*

        I’m sure they were thinking of stuff like “I couldn’t get a haircut for a year” but literally the first thing I thought of was the loss in my own family and it definitely put me in a dark mood the rest of the meeting. Not what I want to be thinking during work hours for sure!

  45. Risha*

    LW, if you have the ability/authority to not do any ice-breakers, please please please do not do it. In addition to the reasons others gave here, many people suffer from social anxiety and find it extremely difficult to speak up in larger groups of people, even if they already know the people. I’m like that, most bosses tend not to believe me and try to get me to talk all the time, but social anxiety is a very real thing. And those of us who have it don’t look any different from anyone else, so there’s no way to tell. But being forced to speak up in a group (where I wouldn’t really have been needed to talk) gives me a mini panic attack. All I want to do is attend the meeting, listen to what everyone has to say, then get back to work. Many people are similar.
    Why oh why can’t quiet people just be left alone in meetings? I can’t beg you enough to not subject your coworkers to yet another ice breaker. I’m pretty sure some of your coworkers will be very grateful.

  46. Faith the twilight slayer*

    I am so freaking tired of stuff like this. Unless the office is known for not letting people communicate at all with each other while working, folks know each other enough to communicate at a meeting. And the purpose of a meeting is usually to discuss business. I’m frustrated at the number of meetings that I have been to where socializing takes over and I wind up wasting an hour – or more! – of time only to find I have zero involvement with what’s going on, or winding up with a task that takes all of five minutes to accomplish. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have work to do, deadlines to meet, and sometimes I’m trapped looking across the conference table at someone whose face I am imagining shoving in a blender (at oldjob, thankfully not currentjob). Not to mention I am just a loner in general.

    Meetings are not social hours.

  47. a raging ball of distinction*

    Depending on the size of your meeting and how talkative people tend to be, an icebreaker can be useful not for “get to know each other” but for “hi, we expect you to participate, we’re easing you back to life gently.” I co-host a regular virtual meeting where we always start with an icebreakery question and ask for at least 3 people to answer. Folks do get into it and also participate in the chat.

  48. GreenDoor*

    If you absolutely must do this in your meetings, reframe them. Since you don’t need “ice breakers” once you all know each other, start using this time for a “guided question” that can help steer your teamwork, or be a spark that helps you build the kind of culture you want. For example, if you are getting a lot of customer complaints you might ask, “Tell me about the worst experience you had as a customer.” Next meeting you ask, “Share a time when you went above and beyond serving a customer.” Third meeting, “Let’s each share one idea for how we can make our customer experience better.” And so on to get the team thinking about the overall idea of customer service and what it means for your team. If you HAVE to do group questions, make the most of it and ask stuff that will be beneficial to the team…

  49. SP*

    I had a boss who would do this but do things like put a random person on the spot to tell a joke. It was horrifying for introverts, and being an engineering team that meant most of us.

  50. EC*

    This is legit what my version of hell would be, enforced corporate “fun” at a meeting you can’t leave.

  51. businessfish*

    I created a guide for my peer team about ice breakers and how problematic typical ones can be. see below. I found that lots of seemingly innocuous ice breakers were not only not really helping me with anything about working with people, they also made me feel bad, like if my hobby is watching reality tv and yours is running marathons, or sharing about the best trip you’ve ever taken when I don’t have money to travel.

    Here is what I created:

    “Lots of icebreaker questions can feel overly personal, put people on the spot, feel irrelevant to working together, or unintentionally feel exclusionary if someone doesn’t relate to the topic.A great icebreaker question:
    -Helps people get more comfortable with each other
    -Reveals something useful about someone’s personality
    -Relates to working together
    -Doesn’t require sharing outside of the bounds of work

    work-related ice breaker ideas:
    – who is your favorite person at company who is not on this team
    – What are your favorite and least favorite work activities? (e.g. making pivot tables in excel, updating the database, giving presentations, writing grants)
    – What is the best piece of company advice you’ve ever received?
    – What is your go-to (productive?) procrastination move? (think: organizing your desk rather than starting a project)
    – What do you like about working from home? what do you miss about being in the office?
    – what’s your favorite standing meeting?”

  52. SometimesCharlotte*

    I hate ice breakers. They make me anxious. And I get so preoccupied thinking about what I can say when it’s my turn, that I miss most of what people are saying. Until my attention is grabbed by the person who is saying the exact thing I planned to say and it’s my turn next and I need to come up with something else or look like I’m just stealing someone else’s response! Ugh!

  53. Skyblue*

    Few things make me feel less relaxed than an icebreaker! Am I going to have to come up with a goofy story or play a silly game? I just find that kind of stuff embarrassing most of the time.

    Some of the ideas above seem like good, not embarrassing, options, but if I’m having a busy day, I’d be annoyed. Twenty minutes of an hour-long meeting? I’d be thinking, “Make the meeting 30 minutes, and get to the point already!”

  54. I am just here for the free pizza*

    Our team had a new director-level manager. They were not new to the company, there had just been an org. change. At our first team meeting, we were told to share what our favorite vegetable was. Almost everyone said broccoli. Back to the manager, they glared at everyone and said “My favorite vegetable is lima beans!!!” OK good for you. The next item on the agenda was the fact that nobody on the team was going to be laid off. Within 2 weeks, about 1/2 the team members had been laid off. I have never eaten lima beans since.

  55. blood orange*

    OP if you get any pushback on eliminating the icebreaker, I wonder if you can get away with a 5-minute segue instead. Either ask about personal/professional accomplishments in the last week/month, or come up with a question more specific to your industry. I’m in niche hospitality/retail and I’ve asked a group to share their favorite thing they watched or listened to in the last week.

    I admit that although I personally hate most icebreakers, I usually use them before a group training. I try to do things that I think the group would actually enjoy, and since I’m generally uncomfortable participating in icebreakers I hope I’m picking ones that my groups are ok with. I usually avoid putting people on the spot; they’re more like fun group activities where people can choose to avoid participating if they’re not comfortable, and just enjoy the spectacle.

  56. Sunshine*

    Oh my goodness. I agree that icebreakers are usually lame, but you’d think that they killed the commenters’ families or something for the amount of vitriol here. There can be a time and a place for icebreakers! It’s just workplace banter, the kind that we all have to make even if we aren’t in the mood as part of “being a team player.” You can be annoyed or feel like it’s wasted time, but it’s not reasonable to be so angry about being asked a small-talk kind of question in the workplace.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      My initial reaction to time wasting is resentment. My initial reaction to stupidity is to roll my eyes. My initial reaction to intrusiveness is anger.

      In any event, I quietly opt out of these games and let others make their own choices.

    2. Sorrischian*

      I think the element you’re not accounting for is that it’s not just *a* small-talk question. Even in my situation where it’s just our two weekly meetings that include ice breakers, that’s roughly 40 minutes every week where we could be getting to agenda items or finishing up document edits or doing literally anything other than listening to our oversharer coworker ramble about her greatest regret (real example). Over the course of a year, that adds up. A lot. I don’t object to icebreakers in and of themselves but in so many cases they end up being a waste of time that doesn’t actually do anything for team morale or cohesion.

  57. vincent*

    My company will do a thing sometimes on a larger meeting (monthly huddles for the department or office location, for example), where they sort of spotlight just one person and have them answer a really basic get to know you question or two. Think “what historical figure would you have dinner with?” or “what’s your favorite pizza topping?” The participants always know in advance and agree to it, and it feels like it hits a balance of making some space for opening the meeting with a bit of connection but not totally overtaking the content or ever going too personal.

    We also sometimes open with online polls (October’s was about the best Halloween candy) which again, is a moment of participation and chatting, but takes hardly any time and doesn’t feel invasive.

    If you think cold turkey would be a hard place to take your company culture, this kind of thing might be a good way to start easing down!

  58. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

    Sounds like my old org. I fricking hated it.

    1) Wasted SO much time.
    2) No one ever learned anything about me. People didn’t actually care about my answers, they just waited for their turn to say theirs, or engaged with the people who were already their friends. It brought out the cliqueishness but it didn’t grow any relationships.
    3) Pop culture ones were the worst. If I the thing I liked wasn’t something everyone was familiar with, I got blank looks. Then I got to listen to my coworkers name transphobes and abusers and other fun types.

    I enjoy small talk. When it’s motivated! Self-directed! Limited to the beginning parts of meetings when not everyone’s there yet! Optional! But at a certain point you should assume the ice has been broken and just do the damn work.

  59. WillowSunstar*

    I’ve been in Toastmasters for over a decade, so my first thought when seeing this was “oh my gosh, I hope they don’t have to do a 4-6 minute speech at every meeting.” But even table topic-like questions can be daunting in groups, especially for introverts. I would say to save them for only when you have new hires.

    Though I will say this, my current team has us do a short presentation once a week to the group on something we learned during the week. But it’s a rotating schedule, so it’s only one person doing the presentation each week.

  60. Alanna*

    My organization does a version of this that I actually think is effective. We call them “pleasantries”, and limit them to 5, or at most 10 minutes at the top of almost all meetings that aren’t 1:1s. These are never super vulnerable, more along the lines of “what’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish”, or occasionally we’ll do a crossword puzzle together or something (the team is 100% remote). I think it’s a good way to structure chit chat and allow some time to be people and not just workers in meetings.
    I will say my organization has *highly* structured meeting norms and agendas, which I actually like since it eliminates the usual “this could be an email” or meetings that just get derailed. If the LW wants to find a middle ground I suggest collaborative “games” like Down for a Cross, saying at the top of the meeting she’ll be limiting icebreakers to 5 minutes, and/or just sticking to more mundane topics like what you’re looking forward to for the weekend or what your favorite thing about X season is

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. And even my 1:1s with my manager start with small talk before we get down to business. Because we relate to each other as people, and I trust that my manager’s not “out to get me.” I know that she wants to help me do my job well, and will advocate for her team with upper management, so I feel safe sharing some things with her that may not be directly work-related but can affect my performance. Things like this real-life example: “My mom just got diagnosed with cancer and I’m worried about her and I’ve had some trouble sleeping, which may affect my performance this week.” I didn’t say anything about that in a team meeting because all the “I’m so sorry” and “I hope your mom’s okay” would’ve taken too long and wouldn’t really have comforted me, but sharing with one person I trust was fine (and my mom’s okay now, too, it’s checkups every few months).

      My org also has structured meetings and agendas. Sometimes the socializing at the start is specifically mentioned as the first item on the agenda. Our minutes are just a copy of the agenda, with any decisions explicitly mentioned. We don’t have any “manager opens the meeting at X o’clock” or “manager closes the meeting at…” stuff.

  61. Allura Vysoren*

    At my old job, when we were all WFH for the panini, our VP ordered my grandboss to have DAILY meetings with our department, at 8:30am because he didn’t believe we were coming to work on time otherwise. These continued. For two years. Even when we were back in the office. It was exactly as excruciating as it sounds.

    I can’t remember exactly how this happened, but after countless meetings of “Does anyone have anything to share? No? Okay, bye everyone” I suggested that, perhaps once a week, we could do a question of the day (we had a lot of new hires at this point, some of us were WFH and some of us weren’t). Grandboss heard “Occasional question of the day” and decided that we would start EACH AND EVERY MEETING with a question.

    She also wrote all of our answers down and would do quizzes with prizes at department parties. It was still happening when I quit six months later.

  62. lilsheba*

    We had to do these at every team meeting when I worked at a call center. I HATED them. It contributed to the whole making me feel like I was being treated like a 5 year old feeling. At my current job we never do them and it’s so much better.

  63. Knitting Cat Lady*

    my company has five minutes for safety for every meeting.

    things like ‘there’s a new building site on the way to the staff canteen and the mud they produced is very slippery’ or ‘lets go over where the assembly points for building evacuation are’ or ‘there’s a giant pot hole on road xyz that a lot of us pass on the commute’

    don’t think i’ve done introductions outside of trainings in my work life so far.

  64. Out of Office*

    My favorite ice breaker is “what’s your least favorite icebreaker and why?”

    Two truths and a lie is in the top three most hated for me. Also anything personal (what are your personal New Year’s resolutions?).

  65. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Huh. I like ice breakers, but I’ve never worked at a place that did an ice breaker at every meeting. I think that I would like it as long as it didn’t take up too much time. I used to conduct a regular new hire orientation and I always did a simple ice breaker just to get the newbies talking. Stuff like: “Beatles or Rolling Stones?” Or “what is your favorite cheese, or hold the cheese?” Or “what’s streaming at your house lately?”

  66. AEJ*

    We used to do this, and I managed to substitute a more normal “how was your weekend,” “anything fun planned for [upcoming holiday]” or just plain “how is everyone.” It breaks the ice more effectively because it feels more natural.

  67. Justin*

    I work for a very large org. My team is about 35 people and my small team is about 8. We have to do icebreakers before every one of our regularly scheduled meetings for both groups. This means every 2 weeks for the large group and every month for the smaller group. I don’t mind participating but I HATE coming up with them. I generally default to weather/holiday food/seasonal activities. Some of my coworkers get really into it with games and riddles and stuff.

    1. allathian*

      And that’s fine. I’d guess that some participants prefer the small talk and others prefer the games.

      1. Justin*

        I’d rather just get down to business. We also have “cohorts” (no manager) where we just shoot the shit for half the time anyways.

  68. Raida*

    If you reckon there’ll be backlash to having no icebreakers at your meetings, just make them in the agenda very very short.

    IE Morning All, as per the Agenda it’s time for ten-second icebreaker, if you could have any meal at all for lunch today what would it be? No more than ten seconds to answer each, anyone want to go first? I would have…. Mmmmm the seasoned corn I got in Melbourne three years ago, yeahhhhhh.

    And if you’re in a meeting with any level of control, get on with the agenda instead of chatting. “We just end up chatting” just means, to me, “We don’t care about wasting time, we don’t use agendas effectively, this meeting could be 35 minutes long.” Especially keep this in mind if it’s got people outside of your team in it!

  69. Anon for this*

    My old job initiated an icebreaker requirement like this, and it was one of the reasons I left. We started to have way too many meetings, and the icebreaker exercises were in all of them. I had other reasons for leaving as well, but seeing how much time was wasted on pointless business school crap instead of focusing on getting our actual work done definitely contributed to driving me out the door.

  70. Anonomatopoeia*

    Now I want to work on most ridiculous but work appropriate icebreakers to provide for the people in this office.

    What’s the worst icebreaker you’ve ever tried to use?
    What’s your favorite play in Twister? (right hand! green!)
    How many squirrels do you think there are in California?
    If you were a barnacle, to which species of whale would you prefer to attach?
    What is the best reason for turning around?
    If someone was making a bet with you and if you lost you would be required to eat spaghetti every day for the rest of your life, what would you demand if you won?
    What’s the worst thing about gravity?
    How many notes would you need to identify this next song sung by a female pop star of the 90s?
    Which is worst, and why: Cat hairball stepped on while barefoot, Baby spit-up down your back, Indeterminate yellow mucus-y goo on doorknob?

  71. Calamity Janine*

    good news, LW, i’m a few days late but i bring an idea that is so bad it’s good again:

    you are in the exact market for that brand of gum called icebreakers.

    …or, honestly, just any candy that looks like “ice”. or just a big pile of clear-ish rock candy, to which you gently take a nice silver mallet. behold. the ice. it is broken. you have broken it. the mandatory icebreaker has happened, you have filled the legal requirement, and now the meeting begins. you have wasted like 2 minutes maximum on prop comedy, and many people around the room will breathe a great big sigh of relief at realizing they don’t have to do some silly trivia game all individually.

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