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.

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