Normally, I don't recommend icebreaker-like activities that aren't directly tied to learning objectives. However, the following activity has been extremely well-received on multiple teams with totally different cultures, and it is remarkably effective at building connections in a ridiculously short time.
What's great about this activity is that it's a "filler" you can use at the beginning or end of a meeting, or as an energizer during a retreat or workshop. It doesn't require anyone to reveal deeply personal things about themselves, and it can create connections within your team in just five minutes.
You'll need a list of questions, which you can get from the web, from this resource I created for a retreat, or just generate it yourself or with your team.
Make sure the questions are unlikely to elicit deeply personal or uncomfortable answers. We're not trying to have a discussion about beliefs or childhood trauma - it's about what cereal everyone ate when they were 5, or their favorite superhero, or which of the Seven Dwarfs they think they most resemble. It's supposed to be slightly frivolous, although it's surprising how much the frivolous can help build connections.
Here are some example questions from the resource linked above to give you the basic idea:
If you could outsource any chore in your personal life, what would it be?
What makes you laugh the most?
What's the most unusual thing you've ever eaten?
Do you collect anything? If so, what and why?
Once you have your list, you'll need a way of randomly selecting them.
- Option 1: Print out the questions and cut the pages into strips, one question per strip, and put the strips in a jar or other container.
- Option 2: Number the questions in the list and have someone on the team pick a number to pick the question.
I prefer option 1, because I like to give the person who selects the question the option to skip it and pick another one if they want, but the second option is easier to manage if you're going to do this at every team meeting.
- In the meeting or session (this can be great right before a break, too), have someone from the team select a question. They can pick it from the container if you've used option 1, or pick a number if you've used option 2.
- The team member reads the question to the group. If you're doing this before a break, let them think about it over the break and answer when they come back. If you're doing it during a meeting, give everyone a few moments to think about their answer and let them answer as they're ready.
- Each member of the group answers the question. They can provide as little or as much context as they want.
That's it! It's really that simple. Sometimes the answers will funny, sometimes they will just be mildly interesting, but over time, the team will know more about each other and have identified commonalities that wouldn't ordinarily come up at work.
If you want to repeat the process with another question, have a different team member select the next one. Or, just move on to your primary agenda. I don't recommend doing too many questions, as part of the fun is doing this over time and retaining some of the novelty of the activity.
The beauty of this activity is that it is very short and simple, and yet it can help members of the team who don't think they have anything in common find things that they never knew they shared with each other, and it can also help people to understand each other a little bit better.