Workshops & collaboration - best practices and approaches for design collaboration

Icebreakers should prime or frame participant thinking

Updated on Sunday, April 24, 2022

A good ice breaker does a few things, create a shared experience that enhances collaboration, introduce participants to the tools and mechanics you will use, and, ideally, the icebreaker starts to frame participant thinking.

For one workshop, we wanted to re-envision airport food service. A colleague provided the most awesome prompt for the icebreaker: when you go on a road-trip, what is your fast food dirty secret? What’s that one place you only stop at when you’re on a road-trip.

Responses gushed out. A health nut always stopped at A&W. Someone else made sure to grab steak fries from Dairy Queen. 20-piece McNuggets and fries for someone else who never stops at McDonalds otherwise.

The genius with this icebreaker emerged later in the discussion as we worked through other activities. One person referred to the cardboard hats at Long John Silvers. Someone else explored the idea of something as comfort food, a treat, and easy as nuggets, but healthy.

The icebreaker’s relevance to our area of focus helped the team use it as a point of comparison and jumping off point for exploration.

To create icebreakers that prime or frame participant thinking, start with your area of focus, and look for adjacent areas.

For re-envisioning airport food service, the icebreaker asked about road trips, a similar activity of travel. And it asked about fast food stops, a similar subject of food.

For search and knowledge management workshops, I have asked: “Share one unexpected or interesting thing you learned recently.” Learning has a similar end goal to many search and KM activities, so it’s a similar activity.

You might also explore related topics or similar interactions in different areas. How is search like cooking in the kitchen? Is searching the kitchen for pots and pans and spices and utensils like searching the intranet for the tools you need to complete a task?