Break the Ice With Getting-to-Know-You Questions

Effective Icebreakers—and How to Design Your Own

Image shows four people sitting around a table and having a conversation. Text reads: "Icebreakers for getting to know people: Describe your dream vacation. If you could only travel to one other country, which would you choose. If money were not a consideration, how would you spend your days? What is one goal that you plan to accomplish during your lifetime?

Image by Joshua Seong © The Balance 2019

Icebreaker questions can help participants get to know each other at a meeting, training session, or team building event. They can also help warm up the interaction during a remote meeting. Attendees can share superficial, nonpersonal information that allows other session participants to get to know each other without the embarrassment of becoming closer than they want to become.

Choose icebreaker questions that do not require participants to reveal more about themselves than they are comfortable discussing in the workplace. Additionally, choose icebreaker questions that allow for a variety of levels of the depth of employee interaction that make any answer correct.

The Goal of Icebreakers

Icebreakers engage the group in early conversation within their individual comfort zones. Most participants appreciate beginning a meeting or training session with quiet laughter and the chance to share something about themselves in a comfortable, supportive environment.

However, if participants are still uncomfortable at the start of the meeting, then your icebreakers have failed. This can also negatively impact the success of your meeting or training session.

Customize the Questions

You can customize the icebreakers so that participant responses lead directly to the topic or subject matter of the meeting. For example, if the meeting is focused on building an organization's culture, you might ask your participants to describe the aspect of your current culture that they appreciate the most.

On the other hand, if the training session is about how to improve meetings, you might ask participants to identify the aspects of meetings that drive them crazy. In a training session on employee motivation, you can ask your participants to describe what most motivates them at work. For a session on improving communication, ask your attendees to think of an excellent business communicator, and describe what that person does that makes for effective communication.

Icebreakers for Getting to Know Each Other

Depending on the make-up of the group and the overall goals of the meeting, you can use questions that ask participants about past experiences, their current activities, or their aspirations. Remember to make the question broad enough so every participant will feel they got their response right without being uncomfortable with what they are revealing.

Sample Icebreaker Questions

  • What event do you remember most fondly from high school?
  • Who was your favorite elementary school teacher and why?
  • What's a favorite family memory that has stuck with you into your adult life? Why?
  • How do you use the information that you learned in your favorite class in your life today?
  • What spectator activities do you most enjoy attending and watching?
  • What was the most memorable event that you experienced in college?
  • What is the most memorable vacation you've taken?
  • What's rocking your world this month?
  • What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
  • What's your favorite activity to do locally and why?
  • Can you share three things about you that you think no one here knows?
  • What was your least favorite class in college and why?
  • What part of your current job is your favorite?
  • Share one thing you love to do that you get to do nearly every day.
  • What's your most significant current challenge?
  • What would you like to accomplish in your job this year?
  • What is your favorite local restaurant and what is the meal you most enjoy eating when there?
  • What outdoor activities do you most enjoy? How often do you get time to participate?
  • What is one goal that you plan to accomplish during your adult lifetime?
  • Describe your dream vacation.
  • If money were not a consideration, what kind of car would you buy?
  • What do you enjoy in your favorite breakfast that you make at home?
  • What is the best meal that you have ever made for dinner?
  • If you could only travel to one other country, which country would you choose?
  • What is your favorite color, and why did you pick it over all of the other choices?
  • If you had the opportunity to adopt a pet, what kind of a pet would you get and why?
  • When you think of the behavior of your co-workers, what behavior tends to drive you craziest?
  • What are the characteristics of the best boss you ever had? What made that person great?
  • What is your favorite activity in your current job? How often do you get to do it?
  • If money were not a consideration, how would you spend your days?

The Bottom Line

An effective icebreaker question sets the tone and tempo of your entire session. The varieties of questions that you ask your participants to discuss are limited only by your imagination and your knowledge about what your group enjoys. See what works best over time to generate comfortable discussion during your meetings and make team building sessions successful.