It’s an all too familiar situation. You sit down to have a team meeting only for the manager to begin by offering up icebreaker questions. While they may have the best of intentions, you can’t help but roll your eyes at another round of what you feel are useless questions rather than getting to the purpose behind the meeting.
There’s a general feeling of disgust or at the least disinterest when it comes to icebreaker questions for work. While starting out a team-building event with awkward silence isn’t that much better, icebreaker questions can make some people feel uncomfortable. However, one shouldn’t discount their value. Psychologist Anton Villado says the right icebreaker can calm nerves, set the proper tone, and encourage people to open up. All of this can result in closer relationships. “We engage in self-disclosure over some period of time — typically lots of time,” Villado says, “and icebreakers are simply meant to hasten that.”
In other words, icebreaker questions can work, but you can’t just pull a random one out of a hat. They need to be appropriate for the situation and capable of achieving your desired results. In this article, learn when it’s appropriate to ask icebreaker questions and what some of the best icebreaker questions for work are.
What is the Right Situation for Icebreaker Questions?
Icebreaker questions are best when the meeting or activity people are participating in is more casual and doesn’t deal with serious topics. Save the questions for meetings and activities that are generally more lighthearted and don’t deal with such dreary subject matter.
Imagine asking people about their favorite holiday or ice cream right before diving into a discussion about upcoming layoffs or budget cuts.
If there are new people present, icebreaker questions can get them involved early and help others get to know them. If there’s a need for making connections and deepening professional relationships, icebreakers are an effective strategy.
Hilarious Icebreaker Questions to Lighten the Mood
Icebreaker questions can provide an opportunity for a team to bond through laughter. This is especially true if you engage in serious work when you’re on the clock. Properly using funny icebreaker questions can help people loosen up and smile, resulting in a more general feeling of ease. These icebreaker questions should help to lighten the mood:
- What was the worst haircut you had or fashion trend you followed? Bonus points if you have photo evidence of it.
- If you could only have one meal every day for the rest of your life, what food would you choose?
- What irrational fear do you have? Is there an origin behind it?
- Can you think of a time when your parents embarrassed you when you were in high school? What did they do?
- You have the chance to pick a useless superpower. What would you choose?
- Did you have an awkward phase while growing up? What did you embrace?
- If you could go by a different name, what would you choose and why would you choose it?
- Can you name a ridiculous item that you bought online late at night? What made you buy it?
When you have lighthearted and funny icebreaker questions like these, you can break down barriers quickly. There’s nothing wrong with showing the sillier side of your personality from time to time.
“Would You Rather” Icebreaker Question to Prompt Discussion
The classic “would you rather” icebreaker questions put an individual in a situation where they have to make a difficult choice. They’re some of the best icebreaker questions because they often lead to more discussion among the team. These types of questions also help get your team’s creative juices flowing. Try out some of the following to see it in action:
- Would you rather be able to turn invisible or fly?
- Would you rather always show up 10 minutes late or 30 minutes early?
- Would you rather give up your computer or your smartphone?
- Would you rather explore space or the ocean depths?
- Would you rather have an endless supply of international first-class plane tickets or never have to pay for food at any restaurant?
- Would you rather have x-ray vision or super hearing?
- Would you rather be able to talk with animals or speak all of the world’s languages fluently?
- Would you rather be the funniest person in the room or the smartest?
- Would you rather be forced to sing along to every song you hear or dance to every song?
These team icebreaker questions give you the opportunity to encourage your team to explain their choices. In the process, you might uncover some of their core values along with what motivates them from within.
Reflective Icebreaker Questions to Understand Others
Icebreaker questions that get people to reflect on their lives give you an opportunity to dig deeper. As long as you don’t dig too deep, thoughtful icebreakers like this can get people to open up. Try out these icebreaker questions to reveal someone’s dreams, priorities, and self-awareness:
- When you retire, what do you want to be remembered for?
- What is the most important goal you are currently working toward in your life at this moment?
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
- Who has influenced you the most in your life so far and why?
- What have you learned about yourself recently that has surprised you?
- What is one thing that you will always be grateful for?
- What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
- If you could instantly gain any one ability or skill, what would it be and why?
By asking these more reflective icebreaker questions, you will receive insight into what makes each person tick. The answers will give you a better sense of the individual, and you’ll be able to bond over shared experiences while also building understanding.
Quick and Easy Icebreaker Questions When You Don’t Have Much Time
Sometimes when you ask icebreaker questions, you don’t have much time to have a more thorough and open discussion. Instead, you need questions that will quickly get the conversation started with short answers. The following will do the trick:
- What is your biggest pet peeve?
- What is your favorite season and why?
- Are you more of a morning person or night owl?
- If time and money weren’t an issue, what hobby would you get into?
- Would you prefer to live in the city, the suburbs, a small town, or the countryside?
- What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
- What is your favorite movie and why?
- Are you more likely to swim, hike, or bike on a warm Saturday morning?
- If you could only keep three apps on your phone, which ones would you pick?
- What is your favorite food and why?
- What is one item on your bucket list?
Quick and fun icebreaker questions like these require little thought, but they’ll likely lead to some easy back-and-forth between the participants.
Fun and Professional Icebreaker Questions for Your Coworkers
Team icebreaker questions can still be useful when you already know your coworkers and have worked with them for years. You’ll need to change it up, though. The following questions can reveal more about your coworkers’ office personas:
- Who is most likely to forget their lunch in the office fridge over the weekend?
- Who tends to have the messiest desk?
- Who had the best dance moves at the holiday party?
- Who can make the best coffee or tea in the office?
- Who is best at cheering other people up when they’re having a down day?
Be sure to mix in some serious icebreaker questions to uncover their work styles as well:
- How do you prefer to be recognized or rewarded for your contributions to the company?
- What is one thing the company could do better to improve our work-life balance?
- What is one skill you hope to improve or develop professionally this year?
- What motivates you on days you are feeling uninspired about work?
- What productive work habits have you implemented recently that are working well?
- What makes you feel happiest at work day-to-day?
- What position do you see yourself in ten years from now?
While you may already know each other, icebreaker questions can help you connect on a deeper level.
Get to Know You Icebreaker Questions for Meetings
On the other hand, you may have meetings filled with people who don’t know each other. You can set a positive tone by starting off on the right foot with some good icebreaker questions. Here are some quick “get to know you” questions that build rapport quickly:
- What is a fun or exciting thing that happened for you this week?
- If you had an unexpected free day tomorrow, how would you spend it?
- What is your favorite local restaurant that you always recommend to others?
- Have you seen any great movies or TV shows recently you can’t stop thinking about?
- Where are you going for your next vacation?
- Have you read any good books lately that you couldn’t put down?
These icebreaker questions are perfect for new clients, new hires, or simply switching up a routine meeting.
The Perfect Icebreakers for Remote Teams
When teams are working from home, they can struggle to make a connection. Icebreaker questions can still prove effective for virtual meetings. You can even use them for virtual team building activities. Cultivate team bonding no matter where people work with the following questions:
- Show us your best work-from-home background for calls.
- What is your favorite productivity hack that keeps you focused when working remotely?
- What is your ideal playlist or music station for powering through tasks at home?
- What is your favorite mug, water bottle, or beverage you always have on hand during video calls?
- What is the most annoying household distraction or interruption you deal with during calls?
- If you could choose one office perk to have at home, what would you want?
Creative questions like those above will bring your virtual team together no matter how far apart they are.
Icebreaker Questions to Avoid
Good icebreaker questions help people feel more comfortable and engaged. However, if you choose to ask bad questions, it can lead to awkward situations and embarrassment. Equally important is knowing when and when not to use them. Formal situations, such as serious business meetings with clients or investors, performance reviews, disciplinary meetings, and other instances where sensitive issues are being discussed should avoid icebreaker questions. The same goes for workplace activities where participants are not able to opt-out.
In general, icebreaker questions should avoid touching on the following categories:
- Anything related to politics, religion, or other deeply personal beliefs
- Questions that assume things like marriage, children, relationships, etc.
- Questions that make participants reveal finances
- Questions about physical appearance or attributes
- Hypothetical illegal, unethical, dangerous, or salacious scenarios
- Questions that pit coworkers against each other
- Overly complex or intellectually demanding questions
- Childhood experiences that were potentially traumatic or abusive
- Health issues, disabilities, or medical problems
- Private relationship details
- Controversial opinions on racism, sexism, discrimination, etc.
- Guilty pleasures or embarrassing secrets people may wish to keep private
- Stressful or negative emotional experiences
- Questions with significant cultural sensitivity issues
Grow Closer as a Team
From the above questions, you’ll be able to select a handful that will help your team get to know each other better while creating a relaxed atmosphere for further collaboration. Whether you’re a seasoned team that has worked together for years in the same office or a group of new colleagues working on opposite sides of the country, icebreaker questions can fuel a greater sense of camaraderie among anyone.
Looking for more activities to do as a team that will encourage team building? Check out these helpful time management activities.