In our last blog post, we talked about how icebreakers can create the right atmosphere by helping introverts get comfortable contributing to discussions. This week, we’ve got more strategies to help you start a great design thinking session with some of our all-time favorite team icebreakers.
Activity 1: Resistance to change
In this activity, ask participants to pair up and take a good long look at the person they are partnered with. Then, direct them to stand back-to-back and take 30 seconds to change 5 things about their own appearance. Don’t provide any additional instruction about how to change their looks.
When the time is up, instruct the partners to look at each other and quickly identify the 5 things that changed. Once they’ve completed the task, congratulate them, then tell them to do it again — taking 30 seconds to change five more things and identifying the changes when they look at each other again.
Once they do this twice (or even three times) it’s time to debrief. This icebreaker is meant to show participants how they think about change, so at the end of the activity, point out three things:
- How many people removed items, rather than adding or changing items? Isn't it interesting how we associate change with loss?
- How many people groaned when you asked them to do it again? Think about how it relates to the workplace when we ask our employees to make too many changes too quickly. People can only handle so much change at once.
- How quickly did they revert their look back to what they started with? Most people immediately change everything back when the game ends — even though they aren’t told to. What does this suggest about our desire to maintain the status quo? The new is often uncomfortable, so we’re quick to abandon it.
Activity 2: Family portrait
Divide the participants into even groups and give each group a scenario for a family picture they have to act out in tableau, i.e. a family of dentists, family of cheerleaders, family of lost librarians. You can even get more specific, like “right after grandma’s big announcement” or “the dentists’ convention.”
The game is played like this:
- Teams work out the scene and the actions they have to perform to get each character in position.
- The teams perform the scene. Count them down from ten and then yell “FREEZE!” and they’ll stop at the predetermined tableau.
- The end result should paint a cohesive picture of the “family portrait” frozen in time.
Along with being silly and creative, this activity forces people to work together as a team in a short amount of time with specific constraints and criteria they need to meet. It provokes creativity and gets people comfortable thinking on their feet.
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Activity 3: Pass the face
Get everyone to stand in a circle, then ask the first person to make a small gesture (usually by making a face). The next person beside them will then be asked to repeat the first person’s gesture exactly, and then the next person beside them will be asked to repeat it, and so on until everyone has passed it around the circle.
The point of the exercise is to keep the gesture exactly the same as it was the very first time. Everyone has to pay attention to the gesture: it’s not supposed to get bigger or change. Sounds simple, but it’s a lot harder to do than you may think!
Activity 4: Snap catch
This classic warm-up game starts with everyone in a circle. One person “throws” a hand clap to their right neighbor, and then that neighbor passes it to their right, until everyone in the circle has gone.
Then, the leader tells the group they can decide to pass the clap back to the neighbor they got it from or pass it to someone across the circle. Notice how disruptive this one change can be.
A similar version, called Snap Catch, allows players to “throw” a snap (or a small ball) to someone in the circle, who then throws it to someone else. The leader periodically adds a snap or another ball to the mix to get multiple threads going simultaneously. If the group gets good at it, you can have them move around the room. It’s a fun way to create connections between strangers and help the team build their abilities as a group.
Activity 5: Stick figure
Not every icebreaker requires people to get in circles and act funny. You can use this simple illustration exercise to start any drawing session and help people get safe doing something outside of their comfort zone.
Before beginning a brainstorming session, give everyone a sticky notepad and a sharpie and ask them to draw a stick figure expressing an emotion, like anger, fear or joy. Tell people not to worry about quality or accuracy — the drawing is supposed to be a stick figure, not a photo-real person. Give them 30 seconds and then quickly get everyone to share their drawings. You’ll find everyone has a good time explaining why they drew their stick figure the way they did, and that they focus less on the quality and more on the idea or story they were trying to express with the illustration.
The intention of this activity is to loosen people up and prepare them to draw their ideas in the simplest way possible. Your team will engage their creativity and focus on drawing the assigned concept, even if it’s not technically well-drawn.