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November 15, 2004
Hot Tips on Breaking the Ice

Icebreakers—who needs them? "Icebreakers" are devices used to build feelings of trust and teamwork within a group, and encourage participation and interaction. They can range from simple self-introductions by each group member to much more elaborate and structured games and even physical exercises. Icebreakers are a good idea for safety training sessions if:

  • Members of the group do not know one another very well.
  • The session will be lengthy, or will be held in multiple segments over 2 or more days (you can use more than one icebreaker, or use one in the middle of a long session to re-energize the group).
  • Your main objectives include teambuilding or solving specific problems.
  • You want to encourage the group to interact freely with you and one another.

Icebreakers should help you achieve your main goals. Don't have an icebreaker for its own sake—instead, decide what you want the icebreaker to accomplish and design it accordingly. For example, if you're assembling a safety team to identify hazards and reduce accidents, the icebreaker should be designed to encourage working together and bringing different perspectives to issues. Ideally, you should be able to refer back to the lessons, insights, or key information gained during the icebreaker to reinforce the points that are made later in the session.

Why It Matters...
  • Icebreakers set the tone for the main part of the session.
  • Training experts agree that icebreakers are a good way to stimulate creative thinking and build group energy.
  • An engaged, energized audience is more likely to pay attention and contribute useful ideas.

Effective icebreakers help focus the session and encourage participation. Specific ideas include:

  • Have participants introduce themselves and describe something they already know about the topic; post the answers on a flipchart.
  • Divide the group into teams, with each team identifying the challenges in the topic and what they hope to get out of the session; again, post the results and refer to them at the end.
  • Use an open-ended quiz at the beginning of the session (for example, name the hazards of a particular job, or name reasons to wear a respirator), then repeat the quiz at the end of the session to see if the answers are different.

Note: How long should an icebreaker take? One training expert says that it should be about one-sixteenth of the total length of the training session.

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