A Strengths-Based Icebreaker

I love this icebreaker: it works for any size group, participants learn something valuable about themselves and each other, it incorporates the latest research, and it’s so energizing and engaging, it’s difficult to get them to stop.

Strengths-Based

This icebreaker is based on the VIA Signature Strengths Survey found on Martin Seligman’s website. Focusing on people’s strengths is not only a genius approach to leadership, it’s a refreshing change from the deficit-based approach that has bedeviled corporate America and hindered performance and satisfatction for decades. It takes some preparation on your part, but the benefits are worth it. Here’s what you do:

Prep

1. Give participants about 10 days lead time to complete the VIA Signature Strengths Survey at (This is a 240-question survey that takes about 25 minutes to complete. They’ll have to register in order to access the survey. Although, free and easy, it will take some time.)

2. Ask participants to print out their complete results (all 24 strengths in order) and bring that print-out to the meeting.

3. Have each participant email you their top 5 strengths.

4. Compile the group’s top 5 strengths and put them on a flipchart page, butcher paper or Powerpoint slide for display. (I list all 24 strengths, tally the results of the group, then reorder the list so the strength with the most tick marks is listed first, the strength with the second most is listed second, and so forth).

Running the Icebreaker

1. 10-20 minutes. Have participants mingle and show each other their top 5 strengths. If you want more depth here, encourage people to linger; if you want them to mix more, let them know that too. In large groups where I want to encourage to get to know people they don’t work with, I’ll ask them to talk to at least 5 people they don’t usually work with. When I really want to push quantity over quality, I’ll time them and give a prize to the person who talked to the most people in the room.

2. 7-10 minutes. When I call the group back together, I ask them what they noticed. They’ll talk about how many of them have one or two strengths in common and you’ll see many heads nodding. Then someone will say “But no one else had this one.” Debrief by displaying the group’s top-5 list you compiled and asking for responses to that list.

That’s it for the icebreaker. I recommend you display the group’s top-5 list for the rest of the meeting (this is why I prefer a large chart to Powerpoint – it can serve as a visual reminder). I find that group members will keep referring to the list and thinking about the connections between their work and their strengths for the rest of the meeting.

Give it a try and let me know how it comes out. And if you’ve done something similar, I’d love to hear about it.

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