Clap-pass icebreaker

You can make this icebreaker as long or short, and as deep or superficial as you’d like.

You can use it to illustrate the depth of the group’s synchronicity with each other when you’re teaching listening skills or intervening to improve a team’s functioning.  You can use it throughout the day or session. And, it works equally well as a quick mood changer or a get-up-and-move break. It can scale from a small team to a group of a hundred or more.


  1. Put people in a standing circle – either around the perimeter of the room or at their table groups.  Make sure they can turn to face the person on either side of them without smacking into the furniture.
  2. Have two adjacent participants demonstrate: The person initiating the clap-pass turns to face the recipient.
  3. The initiator and recipient clap their hands at the exact same moment.
  4. The recipient turns to the next person and they clap at exactly the same moment.
  5. This continues around the circle until participants have established a rhythm
  6. That’s when you speed it up.

The facilitator’s role is to find a rhythm that is just a little too fast for participants. In a large room, it’s OK to instruct the groups to work on their own, speeding up each round until it falls apart. Usually this accompanied by much laughter.

If you’re using this icebreaker as a quick energizer, you can stop here.

If you want to go deeper, you can ask participant’s what happened when they sped up. Typical responses: We stopped looking at each other, we didn’t wait for each other. They will easily make the connection between this exercise and what happens under time pressure at work. Ask them what was going on inside them as the exercise fell apart. Typical responses: I got anxious, I was torn between making the connection with my partner and keeping up the speed. Again, the connection between the exercise and work is easy to make. Make the point that the quality of the clap is easy to ascertain: It’s either simultaneous or it isn’t.

Have them do another clap-pass while maintaining connection with their partner and clap quality at 100%. Ask them to commit to speed and quality. Let them go for a bit and watch their ingenuity unfold. You’ll have to debrief this based on what you see, which, in my experience, can vary widely.

Let me know how this goes for you in the comments below.

Fast, peppy introduction icebreaker

You know how introductions can drag on and on, the precious minutes evaporating like water droplets on an Arizona sidewalk as people grow more and more loquacious?  And, there is the special problem of how to get a room of 100 or more introduced to each other and loosened up while everyone is still young.

Here’s a way to speed up introductions, while making them fun and energizing.
It’s a big mood-shifter. If you use it with a big group, circle people up by table groups and have the whole room clap in rhythm.  FUN!  I’ll warn you though:  You’ll want to practice this before you use it*.

  1. Write down 3 things you want people to share.  I often ask for their name, their fear for the day and hope for the day, each in a word.  If I’m going to do a pre-post clap circle, I’ll ask for their name and a word or phrase that describes their state of mind.  When time is especially short, or I just want to re-energize people, I ask them to name the people on either side of them (first names only).
  2. Give everyone a few seconds to fix their words/names in their mind.
  3. Start this 8-beat clapping sequence, very even, very slow:
  4. Slap your thighs with both hands twice. (on count 1, 2)
  5. Clap your hands twice. (on count 3, 4)
  6. Snap your fingers twice to the right. (on count 5, 6)
  7. Snap your fingers twice to the left. (on count 7, 8)
  8. Repeat.
  9. Get the group snapping with you.  Don’t let them speed up.
  10. No matter what happens, don’t let them stop!
  11. Model what you want them to do (say it as you execute the pattern), like this:

“Liz……………Williams…….clarity at last……disappointment”
(Slap-Slap)  (Clap-Clap)   (Right-Snap)       (Left-Snap)

Name/Current state

“Liz……………………………………feeling eager”
(Slap-Slap)  (Clap-Clap)   (Right-Snap)       (Left-Snap)


(Slap-Slap)  (Clap-Clap)   (Right-Snap)       (Left-Snap)

Have fun with this!

(*Slap-Slap-Clap-Clap, Right-Snap-Left-Snap.  8 beats in 8 seconds – You can time it with the second hand on your watch.  Saying it out loud helps.)


Shake your booty icebreaker

This icebreaker is good for getting everyone up and moving around, and cracking each other up.  There is no actual dancing, which I know is a disappointment to some. 😉  Thanks to Roger James for this one.

  • Circle up with one person in the center.
  • Give the instructions, stressing safety.
  • The person in the center names a personal characteristic they have (blue eyes!  born in a barn! left-handed!)
  • Everyone in the circle who shares this characteristic – including the person in the center – has to find a new place in the circle.  The person who doesn’t make it into the circle has to go to the center.
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until people look bright and shiny again.

My master list of icebreaker questions

One of my favorite icebreakers is to go around the room and ask people to respond to 1-3 fairly innocuous questions. I wrote about this kind of icebreaker in an earlier post that turned out to be quite popular.  So I thought I’d devote a post to listing all the questions I could think of.

Together we can make this even better

Add your questions in the comments.  I’ll move them into the main list, editing only for clarity, and credit you in the comments.   If you want to add your story about how you used these questions, and what happened, that would be great too.  To those of you who have already done this – thank you!

How to use these questions:

You can use one or more questions to start your weekly staff meeting  or any gathering so your group can get to know each other over time.  For larger groups or longer time slots, putting 24 of these on a bingo card is a fun mixer.  No matter how well team members know each other, they always learn something about each other. Thanks to coach Michael Tertes for the original list all those years ago.

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1. What time did you get up this morning?

2. Diamonds or pearls?

3. What was the last film you saw at the theatre (not at home)?

4. What is your favorite T.V. show?

5. What do you usually have for breakfast?

6. What is your middle name (and where did it come from)?  You can do this with first names too.

7. Favorite cuisine?

8. What foods do you dislike?

9. What is your favorite chip flavor?

10. Who is your favorite musician/song/recording right now?

11. On a scale of 1-10, how much do you like your car?  Why?

12. Favorite sandwich?

13. What characteristic do you most dislike in yourself? In others?

14. Favorite item of clothing?

15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

16. What color is your bathroom?

17. Favorite brand of clothing?

18. Where would you retire to?

19. What was your most memorable birthday?

20. Favorite sport to watch?

21. Most embarrassing moment?

22. Proudest moment?

23. Goal you have for yourself?

24. How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

25. Are you a morning person or a night person?

26. What is your favorite dessert?

27. Pets?

28. What is your hobby?

29. What did you want to be when you were little?

30. What did you actually become?

31. What is your favorite candy?

32. What is your favorite flower?

33. What date on your calendar you are looking forward to?

34. What do you listen to in the car?

35. What is the last book you read?

36. What is your favorite food?

37. What is your favorite restaurant?

38. What is your favorite drink?

39. Which is your favorite way to dance:  With others or alone?

40. What is your favorite color?

41. What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had?

42. What’s your favorite travel destination? (been there or want to go)

43. What characteristics do you admire (in yourself or others)?

44. What always makes you laugh?

45. What is something no one here knows about you?

46.  What’s your idea of the perfect day?

47.  How do you describe what you do for a living to your friends?  To strangers at a party? To your family?

48. Describe your closet.

49. How do you take your coffee/tea?

50. Sweet or salty?

51. Most important quality in a friend?

52. What would you name your pet gorilla (lizard, ferret, kangaroo, clown fish, etc.)?  (you could fill an entire bingo card with animals)

53. Describe your perfect day off.

54. Favorite museum?

55. What interest haven’t you pursued, but have always wanted to and what draws you to it?

56.  Oils, pastels, acrylics or water colors?

57. Favorite comic?

58. Favorite comic strip character?

59. Favorite artist?

60. Piece of art that moved you deeply?

61. All-time favorite movie?

62.  Favorite game?

63. If you had a second-life avatar, what would it look like?

64. Favorite character (book, TV movie)?

65. Cook in or eat out?

66. Favorite drink?

67. What’s your favorite season (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring)?

68.  Have you ever played the accordion?  Has anyone in your family?

69. Have you ever played the banjo?  Has anyone in your family?

70.  What makes you laugh out loud?

71.  When was the last time you got the giggles at an inappropriate time?

72. What is your favorite kind of music?

73.  What movie star, musician or artist have you spent hours learning about?

74.  What was the last thing you geeked-out about?  Where were you?

75. Tell us a funny family story…

76. What do you think the secret to a good life is?

77. If you could go on a road trip with any person (dead or alive), who would you choose and where would you go?

78.  Why should trust you to pet sit for me?

79.  How do you get your news?


80. What was the highlight of the year for you?

81. What might not have happened if you hadn’t been involved? (this one is especially good for those who have trouble claiming their successes)

82.  What was your proudest moment this year?

83.  When did your team pull together in ways that surprised you?

Bingo Icebreaker

Let’s say you’ve got a group of 100 in a room for 3 days and the agenda is full.  Your client wants to start his offsite with some high-energy fun, and he wants everyone to meet everyone else.  He’s willing to give you between 10 and 20 minutes.

Take it, and do this.

1. Print out this bingo card, one for each participant:

Icebreaker Bingo Card

2.  Have your client get some prizes – silly ones, chocolate, table toys, company swag – whatever works best for this group.

3.  Pass out the bingo cards.

4. Instruct participants to get each square on their card initialed someone they don’t know – one person per square.  Before anyone can initial their card, they have to answer the question in the box they are initialing.

5.  First five people to complete a bingo gets a prize.  The first person to complete their entire card gets an even bigger prize.

6. Make a big deal of the winners and keep the energy up and people moving around.

If you’ve got any questions about how this works, please leave them in the comments below.

The Executive Icebreaker

My favorite icebreakers for executives are:

1. Ask them to answer the question:  What accomplishment are they most proud of?  I pose the question, give them time to think, and then go around the circle listening to their answers  I summarize the themes I hear.  I love how their accomplishments are always impressive, and show clearly what they most value.  It has the effect of leveling the playing field even when what they share is very different.  Pride does that, I think.

2. Ask them what is the one thing they want to accomplish before they die/stop working/retire.  Same process as above, and the answers can be breath-taking.

What about you?  Are there any icebreakers you find work especially well with executives?  Share!

DIY Icebreakers: Use Your Meeting’s Content

Inventing your own ice-breakers is easy once you know where to look.  Perhaps this situation will sound familiar to you:  In a day-long meeting between people who have never worked together, there is a crying need for an icebreaker, but not a minute to spare in the agenda.   It’s a dilemma alright, and one facilitators face all the time.

Here are two ways to fit in an icebreaker:

Turn breakfast into a mixer. Here’s how:  Most all day meetings have name tags or table tents.  You can use these to seat people in random groups, then give them something to talk about either at their table or with the person sitting next to them over breakfast.  Just write the table number on the back of the name tag or tent, label the tables and put a topic for discussion at each table.  The topic can be anything from “where did you go to school?” or “how did you get your first name”to “what’s your favorite thing about your work?

Use the content of the meeting as an icebreaker. This is as simple as making the exercise “rank order the organization’s 5 goals (list provided)” in an annual goals planning meeting.   Or, “list as many activities as you can for each goal.”   When you incorporate the content of the meeting, you’ve used an icebreaker to give participants a jumpstart.  You can do this at the start of an agenda item, not just at the start of the meeting.

One thing that distinguishes an icebreaker from “real” work is that every answer is the right answer and people are expected to have fun.  With that in mind, start looking to the content of your meeting to design your own icebreakers.  To liven up any icebreaker, set an impossible time frame, like 30 seconds, or have participant’s work through drawings only – no talking.   Then let everyone know it’s a competition and give a goofy prize for the most original, or the worst answer.

Those are some of my ideas for shoe-horning an icebreaker into a full agenda.   What do you do?

Two icebreakers for the cranky group

Let’s say you’ve got a group with a little free-floating rage. Nothing too terrible, just a little, you know, frustration, marked by an inability to move on, perhaps for years. You can try the old chestnut where you list all the issues, declare them in the past and agree never to speak of them again. Except you’ve just spent 30-60 (or more!) minutes reinforcing the complaints and negativity, amping up the limbic system and reinforcing the very neuronal paths you want to extinguish. Probably not the best approach. And, saying “you can’t talk about that” just drives them underground. Besides, you want these complaints as a springboard for problem-solving. What you need is a way to hold them differently, a way to create some transformation space around them. Here are two ideas:

1. Have pairs, trios or some other subgroup create skits depicting the frustrating situation then follow that up with one depicting the situation as they’ like it to be. Ideally, you’d ask them to do something creative with this: act it out as if everyone were animals, do a group sculpture showing the relative position of everyone in the drama, perform a song, limerick or haiku – something that engages a different part of the brain than the part that’s stuck. Watch all the performances, then, in the debrief, use the positive version as a spring board for action planning.

2. Rework the board game CLUE! This is riskier, faster, high-energy fun. Have the group generate new CLUE! solutions based on the frustrating situation. You can prime the pump by making the following three lists:

Places (can include virtual places)

Categories of people (probably job titles)

Murder weapons (these can be objects or behaviors)

After you’ve had the group list all three, have them generate new solutions in this format:

It was (category of person) in the (place) with a (murder weapon).


It was the executive in the boardroom with a powerpoint

It was HR in the computer with an email

After they’ve had their fun with others, have them generate some more, this time using this format:

It was the team member in the (place) with the (murder weapon).

This gives the group a fun and easy way to make the shift from blaming others to seeing their own culpability and returning them to a sense of personal power. Productive action planning follows naturally.

Icebreaker: 3 Gratitudes

Christine Kane calls gratitude “the ultimate bringer of more. It is the ultimate releaser of drama.” This article from Pepperdine University links expressing gratitude to increased cardiovascular and immune function as well as increased optimism and success. Martin Seligman’s research suggests that a daily practice of gratitudes is as effective at combating depression as cognitive therapy and anti-depressants combined.

So, why not use it for a team that’s running on fumes and could use some encouragement? Why not use it to sustain your high-performing team? It’s easy, uplifting and fun to replace whining, complaining and gossiping with appreciation, gratitude and counting your blessings.

This attitude of gratitude icebreaker comes in two flavors: face-to-face and virtual.


Face-to-face:At the start of your meeting (team, project, staff, annual planning – any meeting) ask everyone to list 3 things they’re grateful for in the last 24 hours. Then go around the room having each person read their list. That’s it. The real pay-off is in doing it every time you meet, making it your practice.

Virtual: Send a group email to your team every morning, listing three things you’re grateful for in the last 24 hours. Ask each of them to do the same and watch the positive momentum build.

I’ve been doing the virtual version for the last month with members of my business group, the BUGs. It’s made a huge difference: I’m not interested in finding things to complain about anymore. Instead, I find I’m focused on making each experience something I can be grateful for which is so much more fun! The practice has made me much more creative – more of a problem solver – and much more peaceful. I’m more optimistic too. Try it with your team and let me know how it goes.

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.


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:


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.