When Icebreakers are good

By Olive Burke, @oliveelmer

We have all come across some useful and not so useful icebreakers. For a UX trainer; an icebreaker is an activity we use frequently to get things started, we mainly use this as a tool to relieve inhibitions between people. We like to find creative and quick ways of breaking barriers between people and a good icebreaker can do exactly that- but can it do more you ask?

LabPlay Studio - Design Thinking tools Icebreakers human-centred design innovation training session.

The answer is yes. As well as it is a fantastic way to break the barriers, clear the mind and increase participation within the training group.  A good icebreaker has whole other benefits which can easily be ignored during the activity or when choosing them. However, it is very important that we think of what we want to achieve within the group and how that particular icebreaker can help.

Take my previous training session, for example, I was doing a storytelling workshop at an education setting when I found myself in front of a group of 16-17-year olds who were looking a bit apprehensive in regards to the session. I immediately thought there is an ice to be broken and as long as the group remain close minded, we will miss the opportunity for learning to take place. It was crucial for me to get the group expressing themselves quickly and deeply so I chose the ‘draw your picture that represents your morning’ icebreaker – it’s a fun icebreaker that does exactly what it says in the tin, draw your morning. It’s an easy to understand icebreaker for participants and since you only need pens and paper – it’s easy for UX trainers to prepare too.

I chose this icebreaker for the group in particular, because I wanted to learn more about them, and since we were in a storytelling workshop, I thought it was great if we could all share our unique stories. As a result, this activity got the group to open up more and what could have been a simple ‘I am okay’ or ‘fine’ turned out to be a chat about dreams, breakfast and some even had a deep conversation about the fears they had with regard to the course they are in. This increased participation and created the ‘we are all in the same boat’ atmosphere within the group. Immediately it opened doors for information to be received and shared in a positive and safe space.

Overthinking is our incarceration; a great icebreaker can give us clarity by helping us to loosen up, have fun and carry this flow into the rest of a UX training session.

LabPlay Studio - Design Thinking tools Icebreakers at innovation training session.

Benefits of using icebreakers in a UX training session

Icebreakers can help you create a rich and fun learning environment. They play a pivotal role in individual forming into groups by:

  • Offering an opportunity for learning to take place.

  • Fostering a sense of group purpose and forming a learning community.

  • Helping people to think outside the box and keeping them interested.

  • Increasing communication - making way for more meaningful interaction and relationships during the life of the group.

  • Making learning fun.

  • Transforming a dull training session.

  • Helping participants and facilitators get acquainted with each other fast and in a fun way.

  • Energising and motivating the group.

  • Introducing a new topic at once.

  • Breaking up cliques and invite random group formation.

  • Reducing the group fear and anxiety, therefore, increase contribution and enhance learning.

Disadvantages of icebreakers

If an icebreaker is effective it can be a great tool for lowering defences, modelling appropriate behaviour, aiding communication and teamwork in groups. However, if not facilitated properly icebreaker can be boring, or worst damage the group cohesion and be detrimental to learning. They can also:

  • Consumes precious time.

  • Have no direct relevance.

  • Have the potential for repetition.

  • They can force people with certain personality types e.g. introverts, out of their comfort zone.

LabPlay Studio - Design Thinking tools Icebreakers at Brand Development training session.

Designing and choosing an icebreaker

When designing an icebreaker, you need to consider:

  • What is the ‘ice’ that needs breaking?

  • Have a clear and specific objective for your icebreaker activity.

  • Always put yourself in the participants' shoes, how comfortable would you be taking part in the icebreaker activity.