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.

Leave a Comment