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Posted 2/17/2017

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By Courtney Chambers
U. S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Emerging Leaders Group


To start the New Year the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s 2017 Emerging Leaders Group welcomed seven new members to their 21-person team. To better acquaint the team, the ELG invited me to facilitate icebreaker activities. We devoted a full morning to facilitate icebreaker activities with the goal of discovering more about one another's background, interests, and personalities and to practice working together towards a common goal. In my preparation for this event, I found some materials that you may find helpful for your next team interaction. 

When to break the ice:

  • Participants come from different backgrounds
  • People need to bond quickly to work toward a common goal
  • Your team is newly formed
  • The topics you are discussing are new or unfamiliar to many people involved

What is the “ice” that needs breaking? 

  • Participants have never met
  • There is a difference in participant status, i.e. supervisors, subordinates
  • Divergent perceptions of one another stemming from different backgrounds, cultures and outlooks toward work

This question comes with the caution that while the goal is to “break” the ice, you want to be careful not to uncover an iceberg. Find commonalities rather than emphasizing differences. The ultimate goal of ice breaking is to help participants feel comfortable contributing to the team.

The ELG participated in both introductory and team building activities. Introductory activities acquainted participants and encouraged contribution by all. The team enjoyed introductions prompted by the ring of their cell phone. Participants signed in by recording their cell phone numbers. We cut them into individual slips and had each person draw a number. Participants went around the room dialing the number they drew, and whoever’s phone started ringing shared why they choose their ringtone, and/or their lock-screen photo. Each of these phone features told us surprisingly more about each participant. I’d recommend budgeting approximately one and a half to two minutes per person for this activity. Another introductory ice breaker titled, “Most Favorite” shuffled the group and prompted conversations that should carry over to lunch and dinner visits all year long. These prompts included: share the most recent, impactful book you’ve read; share the most favorite part of your work, and name two things you consider yourself very good at.  

The teambuilding icebreakers encouraged the team to work cohesively towards shared goals and be creative together. One activity called, “Talking in Circles” tested communication and brought to light the need to be mindful of varying team members’ perspectives when giving direction. The last activity was “Tell a Story.” The team was divided into two groups. Each team member received one picture cut from widely varying magazines and catalogs. Each group put their pictures together to make a great story. Likewise, when the varying aspects and expertise of the 2017 ERDC ELG are creatively combined, they will undoubtedly tell a great ERDC story.

These interactions laid the foundation for a productive 2017 ELG Class and we can surely expect great things from this group collectively and as they launch into ERDC leadership roles.

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