Icebreaker ideas for distributed teams
In a remote-first company, most of the communication and collaboration happens asynchronously. Software engineering retrospectives is one of the cases where you can leverage synchronous meetings as it gives the best chance for the teams to come together and learn from the past within a structured meeting.
Icebreakers in retrospectives are known for their usefulness to get the team focused and engage with the session and serve often as a warm up exercise. Icebreaker activities can also be a very effective tool for building trust and rapport between team members, which is crucial especially for distributed teams.
Over time, I’ve participated in and facilitated many retrospectives and saw people going above and beyond to come up with new ideas for icebreaker activities and I thought to share a few of them, which are fun, creative and effective.
Imagine as a team you have a fridge which you need to stock up. Ask everyone in the team to think about an item or two they would like to put in the fridge and share with the rest. If you are using an online collaborative tool where people can upload images of the items they chose, that would be great and add more color to the activity. Otherwise just writing it down and sharing would also work. Here are few additional questions that you can ask:
- Why did you choose that specific item?
- Why do you think it would be a good choice for the team fridge?
- Do you have any good memory associated with the item you picked?
What if you were a salad, what would you be? What ingredients would go in and would stay out? Before doing this activity, make sure to ask the room if everyone is comfortable with the idea and ask everyone to think about themselves and which salad would describe them best? Here are few additional questions you could ask:
- What ingredients would you choose for the salad (toppings, dressings, etc)?
- Do you want to comment about others’ choices and can you connect to what others brought up?
- Are you surprised to see anything on the board? Why?
You can also try to have the same exercise by choosing different mixed food or drink instead of a salad. For example, our favorite one is to ask everyone which cocktail they would like.
A cleaning product
Open up the session with the following question: “If you were a cleaning product, what would you be and why”? Ask everyone to think for a minute and share a photo or a word of the product, as well as share why they chose it. Here is a glance of one of our team’s results.
Imagine you are going to stay on an island for a year all together. But this is not a survival game, you would be provided with all the basic necessities (such us food), there won’t be any life threatening issues, so the only thing you need to think about is - “What would you bring with you to help to stay in an isolated island for a year?”.
How these activities are useful
The activities listed above are not only a warm up exercise, they also help to:
- Have fun
- Learning about each other’s personal histories and backgrounds, cultural differences and similarities
- Representing and expressing ourselves in a different way and shape
- Finding out new facts about each other
Note that all of the ideas can be used as icebreakers for any meeting, not necessarily for retrospectives. Special thanks to all wonderful people that I have worked with who came up with these ideas. Hope you can give some of the ideas a try!