In college, I was a member of a student group where each meeting began with a short opening question. I didn’t know anything about meeting facilitation at the time, but I remember liking that part of the meeting. Fast forward to when I became a manager leading a team of 20. Out of habit, I started every meeting with a short opening question: favorite color, smell, food, vacation spots, and on and on.
The unintended side effect was that after 6 months of working together, our team had a special bond. We longer knew each other based on our roles at work alone. Bob from Engineering became Bob from Engineering who built canoes, loved the color green, the smell of rain, and volunteered as a coach for his kid’s baseball team.
I later learned that the opening question was a common facilitation technique that helps get everyone talking and creates a safe environment. It has the added benefit of helping us learn about each other and our cultures… whether we’re remote or co-located.
You can see that we on the (all remote) Happy Melly team try all kinds of things to build that team feeling. I think the picture speaks for itself.
My favorite virtual icebreaker questions
There are a thousand different question recommendations online. But here are some of my favorite questions.
- Favorite food and least favorite food: as simple a question that this is, the answers always seem to uncover something interesting!
- What was your first job?
- Tell a story about your name
- Fill in the blank “When I dance, I look like __________”
- What is your favorite comic strip
- Favorite moment of [insert any time frame]
- What was a “Bright spot” from [insert any time frame] ( I got this from Teampedia.net)
Take a picture of…
If you’ve got a chat system or a back channel where photos can be posted, you can ask questions that can be answered with pictures.
- Your shoes (I got this from LucidMeetings.com)
- View outside your window
- Your work area
- Something on your desk
- The city you’re in and have people guess where you are
If you’re hosting a meeting, keep it quick. You are meeting because there are things that need to be discussed as a team.These icebreaker questions should not get in the way of what needs to get done.
Don’t get too personal. Keep your questions to general, light-hearted topics. Unexpected emotions can be triggered when you get too deep.
It’s ok if someone doesn’t want to participate. Make it ok for people to opt out if they want to.
Keep it positive. Negative questions can build on themselves in surprising ways.
Make sure to listen to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast episode about virtual icebreakers for remote teams
Great podcast. I am right there with you. I was a remote manager for years and I wanted a tool to do virtual ice breakers and I could not find products easily, so I made it.
i would like to chat sometime.
Thanks Gerard. Your website looks GREAT. I just sent you a message on LinkedIn asking if I could interview you for the podcast. I would love to talk more!