You’ve brought together a disparate group of employees for a design thinking exercise, the vibe in the room isn’t as energetic or enthusiastic as you would like it to be. It’s not uncommon. Asking relative strangers to collaborate can be a tense environment initially. People are unsure of what you expect from them, and they may be uncomfortable with the idea of brainstorming with their boss or peers from other departments. So how do you loosen them up? Try an icebreaker.
Yes, many people will cringe at the suggestion that they need to get out of their chairs and participate in a group game or “creative” activity. But these quick and fun activities can instantly eliminate the discomfort in a room, and set the right tone for the rest of the session.
Why we Play
Games don’t just help people in an unfamiliar setting get acquainted — they can transform the culture of a group – especially if they’ve never worked together before. Ice breakers get people out of their own heads and invite them into the room. They are an especially good way to help people who don't know much about each other discover elements of commonality and collaboration.
They can also breakdown the unspoken hierarchy in a room. It doesn’t matter how senior you are or how long you’ve been with the company, anyone can win an icebreaker game, which changes the dynamic of the group. Imagine if you asked 100 people to pair-up and play “rock, paper, scissors” (which is a great icebreaker FYI). Whoever wins the first round plays another winner, while the loser has to chant the name of the person who beat them. Whoever wins that round gets the loser and their fans to cheer them on. Within a few minutes you’ve narrowed the room to two finalists, each with a fan base fully invested in their success.
This silly game is a great way to get people engaged with each other, while demonstrating that when it comes to design thinking, anyone can be a winner (or have a winning idea), which sets a baseline for respect in the room.
This is an important step in creating the right vibe for a design thinking session. It is much easier for people to engage and share openly, offer their thoughts and opinions, and contribute to the collective learning experience if they have some comfort with the others in the room — ice breakers help make that happen.
These games are especially valuable in a group of introverts who are loathe to shout out ideas, draw pictures, or otherwise be a part of the team activities that define a design thinking session. Icebreakers help them prepare for what is about to happen. For those with a natural preference for introversion, a good ice breaker can help them to engage in a way that will work best for them.
So the next time you plan a design thinking event — or any activity that requires collaboration, make an icebreaker part of the process. Coming next: ideas on the right icebreaker for your team.