Most businesses have embraced remote working over the last 12 months.
Traditional business meetings have been replaced by video conferencing and virtual team meetings.
This brings new challenges for team managers.
For those managing virtual teams, helping everybody feel that they’re part of the team is tricky. This is why ice breakers can be so useful.
They get everyone introduced and help lighten the mood, build energy, and improve team dynamics.
This article explores icebreakers a bit and then suggests five great ice breakers for your virtual team meetings and highlights three common mistakes people make.
Ice breakers are fun activities or games designed to welcome participants to a group meeting and warm up the conversations among them.
They help to set the tone of the meeting and get people engaged and energised.
Virtual ice breakers are the same but they take place online via webchat or video call.
If you are a virtual team leader they can make a big difference to managing your remote team.
It is easy for people to sit passively in a virtual meeting and not really contribute.
An ice breaker will help to get everyone actively contributing and avoid that.
Working as a team on group projects strengthens work relationships.
This group camaraderie helps to create a pleasant, open work environment and boosts productivity.
Recreating this in-person team bonding within a remote team is one of the big challenges of a virtual team.
Most remote workers tend to focus on tasks and projects and place less focus on interacting with their colleagues, which can lead to weak relationships, isolation and ineffective communication.
Virtual team icebreakers help overcome the challenges that going virtual brings to group communication, and help encourage collaboration and creativity, while also reducing feelings of loneliness.
Key benefits include:
Ice breakers serve as a great way for virtual teams to bypass the usually dreaded “Tell us about yourself” question.
It offers a more creative way for new recruits to introduce themselves in meetings.
Virtual ice breakers provide an innovative way of fulfilling one of the most basic human needs: social bonding.
Bonding isn’t just reserved for friendships and families – organisations benefit from team bonding as well.
Team building activities are designed to help participants present themselves in a more personable way.
You can learn a lot about what your colleagues are like when playing these carefully designed games.
Ice breakers in this context allow for interactions to become more natural and effortless.
Whether in a virtual or in-person setting, icebreakers promote bonding, cohesion, and boost trust among a team of coworkers.
Icebreakers help insert much-needed fun into virtual meetings. This often creates a more comfortable atmosphere for brainstorming and ideation.
Since creativity can’t occur in a constricted environment, creating the right atmosphere is crucial to ensure free flow and cross-sharing of ideas.
Empathy is the capacity to emotionally understand another person’s feelings and perspective in any given situation.
To build a solid team, empathy is indispensable because it allows team members to step back and put themselves in their colleagues’ shoes. Calm debate, collaboration and decision making aren’t possible without the use of empathy.
Ice breakers give team members the chance to better understand their colleagues and what drives their behaviour, and this encourages them to show empathy toward one another.
Sometimes, you just need to give your employees a break from the day-to-day routine and spice things up. Some ice breakers for virtual team meetings are designed to spark creative thinking.
Getting the virtual team together in a relaxed atmosphere allows members to come up with fresh ideas without the fear of being judged.
Let’s take a look at 5 great icebreakers and how to implement them:
The “Snap a picture” icebreaker provides a great way to remind members of a virtual team that they’re all coworkers. Having a peek into the work environments of your colleagues can
be a fun occasion for friendly interaction.
How this works:
“Snap a picture” is, just like the name sounds, an invitation for team members to take pictures of their desks or working spaces.
Since everyone will be working remotely, the pictures can reflect the most unusual spaces – a desk, a patio, even a hammock.
We are all visual beings, and posting pics for others to see, other than just words on screens, helps build genuine connections.
Another theme could be “Take a pic of your shoe.” You’d be amazed at the different kinds of images you’ll receive.
This icebreaker ultimately encourages participants to open up about their hobbies and interests. Beach-goers may show their sandals, while runners may post their favourite running shoes.
“Guess who” is another fun way for remote team members to learn more about each other. This icebreaker is suitable for teams of 3 to 10 employees who have met physically once or twice.
For large teams, you could modify this activity by using breakout groups so that the icebreaking doesn’t take much time to complete.
How this works:
Before the virtual meeting, send out an email asking participants about their answers to certain light-hearted questions. You can also create an open-ended survey asking participants the questions like:
“What’s the best vacation you’ve had?”
“What’s the last song you listened to?”
“What was the last movie you watched?”
“What’s the craziest hairstyle you’ve ever had?”
“What’s the name of your favourite pet?”
“Where’d you like to spend your next vacation?”
“What’s your greatest childhood accomplishment?”
“What was your last Google search?”
“If you could visit anywhere in Africa, where would you go?”
“What was your first job?”
“How is your family?”
“How is your health?”
“What’s your favorite food spice?”
During the virtual meeting, the facilitators can showcase responses from each participant, while the other members are left to guess whose responses they are. If you have enough time, you could organise quick polls to make participants guess these.
Sometimes, several participants may offer the same response. This is good. Just group them together and let other participants know their guesses were correct.
Even if your team doesn’t work in the sales department, “Sell it” is a creative way for breaking the ice in virtual meetings. It’s even better if you’re in sales.
This icebreaker is suitable for teams of any size. If you have a large team, just break the team off into smaller groups, so as not to waste time.
How this works:
This is a nice icebreaker for virtual teams because it needs little preparation.
When the meeting is about to begin, ask participants to grab an item on their work desks, but don’t tell them why. If they ask, tell them they’ll soon find out.
Once each member is holding an item, tell them to try to sell the item to other team members. They’re free to set the price. Each person then has a minute to deliver a business pitch and 2 minutes to answer relevant questions.
Any person who manages to persuade the majority of team members to purchase their items wins.
If you need online games for breaking the ice, virtual in-meeting bingo is the best. This game makes it easy for employees to pay attention and be engaged during virtual meetings.
Virtual bingo also helps normalize embarrassing situations and make participants feel more comfortable.
How this works:
The first thing to do is to create bingo cards that list situations that can occur during virtual meetings.
Here are a few virtual bingo ideas you can use:
Before starting the meeting, send every participant their bingo cards, and tell them you’ll explain things at the meeting.
When the meeting starts, let the participants have their cards ready. Tell them to mark off the card anytime a situation on their cards occurs.
The first person to get 5 in a row will type “BINGO” on the chat thread to win.
This article contains some handy suggestions if you want to give this a try.
If you’ve participated in Mad Libs before, you should know they’re a “fill-in-the-blank” activity that often leads to a funny conclusion.
When used as an icebreaker for virtual meetings, MadLibs are effective team building activities that can help remote teams to relax and connect together.
This icebreaker is suitable for any team size because participants can pair up with each other. If there’s an odd number of team members, you can tell a facilitator to pair with the last member.
How this works:
Before starting a virtual meeting, find an appropriate story to use. This could be your company’s mission statement, company policy, or even a write-up about your organisation. Create blanks in this story to be filled by your virtual team members.
Pair up the participants and assign one to act as the writer, while the other acts as the reader. In each group, the reader asks the writer to mention a word which could be an adjective, adverb, or noun, depending on the blank spaces to be filled in the story.
When each group has finished filling out the blanks in their story, let them return to the main thread and share their experience.
The goal of creating virtual team meeting ice breakers is to help participants relax and warm up to one another.
However, icebreakers are often not used properly and they end up becoming “ice makers”. 3 common mistakes people make with ice breakers include:
Whether we love them or not, icebreakers truly are effective in sparking more group interactions.
But sometimes, these fun activities can cause excruciating embarrassment to participants, especially if the icebreaker questions are too awkward or caustic.
There are certain lines participants shouldn’t cross, such as asking about the colour of someone’s underwear or their sexual orientation.
Team members will probably not admit feeling ashamed or embarrassed, but any unpleasant incident could lead to distancing and an overall awkward atmosphere within your team.
Avoid asking questions that are too personal or inappropriate and otherwise just following the rules of common sense.
Clearly, not everybody will have an equally active role in virtual meetings. But everyone should be able to contribute to “breaking the ice” in a team meeting.
To make this happen, large teams can be split into smaller groups of 5 or 6. This way, all members get assigned a role and everyone will feel more energized and engaged.
Make all your team members feel seen and appreciated. This will boost overall engagement and productivity in the future.
When virtual teams have more than 10 participants, icebreakers may turn out to be too long and uninteresting.
As stated before, it’s advisable to break large teams into smaller groups to make it easier to break the ice.
Breakouts encourage participants to take more interest in the tasks at hand and lead to extra valuable input.
Another option is for the facilitator to simply call on participants one-by-one within a short period of time. The compressed timeframe forces the team to organise quickly and focus on the goal rather than the process.
Increase the rhythm of the meeting and break up the team into multiple groups to prevent boredom.
Virtual team ice breakers help team members relax and feel confident to communicate freely. They overcome one of the big disadvantages of remote work, although there are both advantages and disadvantages to going fully remote.
Using icebreakers isn’t just about sharing opinions. It’s also one of the most effective ways to build trust among virtual team members.
By applying the strategies above and avoiding some common pitfalls, ice breakers will become a valuable tool that you can use again and again. Focus on creating strong relationships within your team and this will translate into better problem-solving and increased overall efficiency.