When you hire a new employee, several strategies can ensure the onboarding process goes smoothly. It’s important to remember, though, your new employee isn’t just learning about the company culture and their specific duties — they’re getting to know a whole new team of coworkers, too. And these days, with remote work being so common, it can be really tricky to get to know those new colleagues organically. After all, they won’t be running into each other in the break room and making conversation while a new pot of coffee brews, so creating opportunities to connect is particularly important with remote workers who get less face time with one another.
Whether you’re dealing with a team of employees working from home or an in-person office staff, offering fun and engaging icebreakers everyone can all participate in when a new hire comes on board can go a long way toward creating a welcoming environment. Icebreakers allow groups of people to get to know one another, which tends to foster community, interaction, and empathy — all of which help build stronger teams that can better work together toward your company’s goals.
Not sure why it’s helpful for Juan in marketing to realize that Agnes, the new hire in sales, shares his obsession with Corgis? Let’s break it down.
Building a community requires people to get to know one another, which helps each individual truly feel like part of a team working toward a goal. Interaction takes that community feel a step further. When employees — especially new hires — feel more comfortable with their colleagues, companies can prevent a siloed work environment and encourage collaboration across departments. Working together can build empathy, which encourages team members to consider other points of view before taking action. And when employees take the time to think about how their decisions will affect their colleagues and other departments, those decisions tend to better benefit the company as a whole.
Providing ways to connect can become even more important in teams that have made diversity and inclusion a priority in hiring. It can be all too easy for new hires to see the ways in which they differ from their colleagues by gender, age, race, or culture. With the right icebreaker activities, however, team members will quickly learn what they share in common, all while gaining a better understanding of and respect for each other’s differences.
Just the mention of the word “icebreaker” tends to earn an eye roll or two. But if we really want to get Juan and Agnes talking about how Corgis have rear ends that look like loaves of bread — and we do — we have to provide activities employees will actually enjoy. Read on for our tips to ensure enthusiastic participation from your whole team plus our favorite icebreakers your team can get behind.
Tips for a Successful Icebreaker
No matter what activity you choose, there are a few key components any successful icebreaker should have.
Keep it short
Your employees have work to do, and even the most enjoyable icebreaker will leave your employees cold if it leads to them having to work during their lunch hour to hit a deadline. Schedule a half hour at the absolute max. Use leading language such as “Share one thing” or “You have 30 seconds to tell us.” You only need a few minutes to get a conversation going!
Choose simple and familiar activities
If you choose an overly complicated icebreaker, your employees may spend their allotted time trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do rather than getting to know one another. There may be opportunities for more elaborate games — say, at a holiday party or other event — but when the purpose is to help your newest addition feel at home, make participation a no-brainer.
Set rules to maintain professionalism
Rules let us know how to have fun, right? Even if you don’t subscribe to that ideology, the person facilitating the icebreaker must be ready to take charge. If that’s you, be prepared to assign groups or partners, explain rules in a quick and concise manner, and set boundaries and expectations, especially around any games that could lead to uncomfortable questions. Remember that while some coworkers will quickly become friends, not every employee wants to share personal details; allow individuals to maintain the work-life boundary that works for them with activities that don’t require oversharing.
Consider activities that don’t take place in real time
With a busy team, remote workers, or employees who keep different schedules, it can be challenging to find a meeting time that works for everyone. While in-person (or real-time virtual) events can bode very well for your team, you can choose from other options, too. Think about prompting conversations with a weekly reply-all email that poses a question, creating a team channel for a weekly prompt (such as pet pictures, favorite recipes, TV recommendations), or using your technology of choice to create a space for employees to interact socially on their own schedule.
Think about your group’s dynamic
Lots of factors will influence the type of activity you choose: your group size, demographics, whether you have brand new employees or a team that knows each other well, and more. People often feel more comfortable speaking up and sharing in small groups, so consider dividing big groups into smaller ones or assigning partners. If you leave a large group together, keep the activity simple. Teams with new or particularly shy members will be better served with low-risk activities (such as the emoji game below!) that don’t get too personal and won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
Keep it inclusive and comfortable
Activities that take place in person should never require physical contact, and keep in mind that not everyone is physically capable of (or interested in) participating in certain athletic pursuits. It doesn’t mean you can’t organize a group run after work, but it shouldn’t be mandatory — and it shouldn’t be the only group activity available since it may exclude team members. While it’s been said above, it’s worth saying again: Icebreakers shouldn’t delve into personal or private details that team members might not want to share — or hear.
New-Hire Icebreakers Your Team Will Enjoy
Asking new employees to find colleagues who fit a certain trait is a simple way to get them to interact one-on-one with a wide range of people at your company. Choose a few specific but easy scavenger hunt topics, like “someone who’s been at the company for at least 10 years,” or “someone who’s run a marathon.” If you know some interesting facts about the new hire, consider using them to help your new team member connect with their coworkers. For example, if you know your new hire loves animals, ask them to find someone who has a cat or dog. Are they into motorcycles? Have them find someone who rides.
Remote adaptation: Have new hires ask these questions via email or with direct messages.
Gather all employees and ask each person to write down a surprising work-appropriate fact about themselves on a piece of paper, then put that paper in a container. Read each fact out loud and task the group with guessing who it’s about.
Remote adaptation: Ask everyone to text or email answers to one point person who will add all the responses to an app like Poll Everywhere. Alternatively, you can do it in real time during a video meeting.
Ask the team questions on a group text or chat channel; feel free to keep it related to the company or a current project if you like. You can also keep it light and a little more random with things like, “What’s the best breakfast?” or “What’s the perfect place for a vacation?” Then ask everyone to respond with the emoji they feel offers the best response. Open it up to memes and GIFs if that’s a fit for your team!
Get the team’s creativity flowing by printing or sending around a (work-appropriate) picture and then asking everyone to submit a caption to the facilitator. Share the captions anonymously with the whole team and ask everyone to vote on the funniest one. Consider having someone vet the captions before sharing to make sure they’re all in line with your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion guidelines.
Remote adaptation: Share the picture in an email or on your chat platform, then have everyone send their answers to one person who adds them all to an app like Poll Everywhere — or share and vote on the captions in real time during a video meeting.
This game is a classic, and when it comes to keeping it simple, well, it can’t be beat — just have each person write down two true facts and one lie about themselves, and their colleagues guess the lie. Reminding employees to keep their truths and lies work appropriate may be a good idea here to keep anyone from getting too personal or striving for shock value.
Ask each employee to share something positive taking place in their life, a challenge outside of work, and a future event they’re excited about. This can easily be adapted to focus on work highs and lows, too.
Remote adaptation: This works well in a roundtable format on Zoom (or in breakout rooms, if the group is large); it could also be shared in a team chat channel with a prompt.
While this might be slightly more involved, if you have a small team that likes to socialize outside of work, setting up the opportunity for them to play a Jackbox Game together can be a lot of fun. They’ll need their phone, a second screen, and some imagination.
Monthly, quarterly, or holiday-themed virtual experiences like Bingo, escape rooms, comedy shows, and others offered by Ten Spot are fun, low-pressure ways for your team to interact socially, no matter where they live.
By giving your team something to talk about with a new hire other than whether it’s okay to reheat fish in the breakroom microwave (spoiler: it is not), you’ll help foster an office environment that encourages collaboration and communication — even if they never set foot in the same office space.