3 types of icebreakers

Icebreakers are the most important type of game to kick start an effective team building process. But did you know that there are three types of icebreakers. They fall into these categories:

  • getting to know your name
  • getting to talking to you
  • getting to know something about you.

Knowing which type of icebreaker you need will help you to select more appropriately.


Getting to know your name

This is the type of icebreaker that is often deemed to be synonymous with the term ‘icebreaker’. It is needed when the team is first forming. It is most important to use when the participants are strangers. But also important when team members have not interacted regularly before the team formed. In all social interactions when two strangers meet, the first thing they do is introduce themselves. This icebreaker provides a structure for those introductions to be accomplished quickly in larger groups. And sometimes there is some fun added. It is important as a first step for everyone to know the names of their team mates.  The ‘Getting to know your name’ icebreaker is the most non-threatening of the three types.

Because this is most renowned form of icebreaker, many facilitators only use one icebreaker with a team or group. But just like in a social gathering when meeting a stranger the conversation then develops in stages, so icebreakers come in stages also. So you can use as many icebreakers as you feel are necessary to break down the normal personal barriers that exist when people are thrown together with strangers and/or casual acquaintances.

Getting to talk to you

The ‘Getting to talk to you’ icebreakers mimic the next step in meeting someone – talking to them. In a social gathering strangers often talk about the weather – a topic which has few emotional ties. You can spin this topic for quite awhile without investing anything of yourself into it. So it is a comfortable topic. These icebreakers are a structured way of having a light or ‘comfortable’ conversation. They ask the participants to talk about anything except themselves. They are providing  social interactions that are starting to build tenuous links between team members. They can be confused with entry level team bonding games. But in these games, emotional investment is very low. Thus the ‘Getting to talk to you’ icebreakers are low threat.

Getting to know something about you

These icebreakers are seeking to provide a structure for everyone to talk about themselves. This is the next level of  normal conversation. Even though this is an easy topic for most of us, it incurs a slightly higher threat level than the other two types of icebreakers. There is now some emotional attachment to the content. Thus, it is usually used after the other two types. Sometimes, the ‘getting to know your name’ icebreakers will also include some personal things. But generally they are there to provide a context for the name. In the ‘Getting to know something about you’ games, the structured activity is providing a fun way to explore like and dislikes, values and skills. The links between members are growing very slightly stronger.

Since conversation is involved in these quick activities, many of these games are done in smaller sub groups. Thus, tenuous links are not forming between members of the entire team, but with some members within the team. For that reason, there may need to be a few of these type of icebreakers used to start the team bonding process. The facilitator will feel the difference between working with quiet strangers and working with a team that freely talks with each other. At that point, icebreakers are no longer needed. Energisers and team bonding games take over.