Group Icebreaker Games That Address Common Communication Pitfalls

Group Icebreaker Games That Address Common Communication Pitfalls
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The Importance of Good Team Communication

A project management leader is tasked with establishing and maintaining an effective flow of communication within a team. It’s necessary to develop good ideas and solutions, accomplish daily work and keep stakeholders apprised of project status. A formal step in creating an environment conducive to excellent communication involves establishing a formal communication plan.

Setting the proper tone and modeling behavior are also best practices. In spite of these efforts, a number of conflicts may arise that impact the flow of communication and detract from performance. How these challenges are dealt with may be the difference between a successful outcome and a project gone awry.

A group icebreaker game is not a cure-all for a communication problem. But, it is time well spent. A well-planned activity puts people at ease and readies them for substantive guidance. If the proper game is utilized, the learning outcome can be emphasized and referred to throughout the project. The following article details four common communication problems along with games that result in a related learning outcome. Tips to make the most of the game experience are outlined at the end of the article.

Now…let the games begin!

Not Listening Well

In order to communicate well, one must listen well. But, there are many factors which inhibit a person from fully listening to what team members have to say. Some members may be silenced or shut down so their ideas are not heard. The conversations may be dominated by a senior employee or a particularly outgoing participant. Instead of listening, team members may formulate responses or continually redirect the conversation to themselves.

This activity helps participants practice listening by requiring participants to sit quietly and listen while a partner talks about an opinion on a controversial topic for several minutes. Afterwards, the listener must repeat the position without adding any commentary.

How it works: Pair up participants or place them in small groups. Give each participant in a group a piece of paper with a controversial topic written on it. Each participant in the group should receive a unique topic. (However, the topics can be repeated for other groups.)

Note on “controversial” topics: Use your knowledge of the team members and the company to come up with appropriate topics. The more interesting the topic, the more meaningful the exercise will be. Consider topics that involve working overtime, break room rules, health care reform, unions or other topics relevant to the company or industry. If the topics are too delicate, consider having additional topics available so that a person can opt-out of a particular topic.

Give a team member three minutes to speak about the issue selected. The partner must not say anything during this period. At the end of three minutes, the partner must re-state the position presented. Repeat with the roles reversed. Option: allow a period for the listener to clarify understanding, but not rebut the arguments presented.

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More group icebreaking games are on the next page.

Not Communicating Clearly

Make sure team members communicate clearly.

Another problem in the communication arena is not speaking or writing so that others on the team understand the expectations, steps or desired outcome. The reasons for unclear communications are many. For example, incorrect assumptions may be made about the level of knowledge a person has about an area or unrealistic expectations from previous interactions.

This activity requires each team member to complete a task based solely on the instructions of a team member. A short version might have participants fold paper according to directions or build something with small blocks. A more elaborate event might involve remote-controlled cars or an obstacle course. You can have a lot of fun driving this point home!

How it works: Give each person a piece of paper. The “instructor” tells the participants how to fold the paper to make a paper cup. An example is shown in this video. Note that instructions have not been provided in this article. Rather, the leader is charged with clearly articulating the steps. The instructor should not “help” the participants or provide feedback about how they are performing. Compare cups when finished.

Alternative games follow the same principle. For example, have participants steer remote-controlled cars that they can’t see through an obstacle course based upon guidance from a partner. Or, have participants build a tower from small blocks while blind-folded.

Not Receiving Feedback Well

Feedback is another tricky area of communication, particularly if the assembled group does not represent a traditional reporting hierarchy. For example, laterally positioned employees may be reluctant to comment on each others work. If a senior employee is thrown into the mix, the process may be even more difficult. Since feedback is important, consider conducting an exercise that breaks down the barriers and attempts to show participants how to handle this type of exchange.

How it works: Pair up participants. Give everyone three minutes to draw a picture, create a slogan, or write a short rhyme. At the end of the creativity period, one participant is given 30 seconds to comment on his or her partner’s work. Instruct the commenter to say something positive followed by “but” and constructive criticism. Reverse roles. Next, have each participant rephrase the feedback by providing positive feedback followed by “and” then the constructive criticism. Ask participants to relate which wording felt better when received.

Communicating with Long Distance Team Members

Use a group icebreaker game to create comradery with remote team members.

When some team members are not physically present for meetings or discussions, communication barriers may pop-up. Use technology and social media to include remote workers in company functions. In addition, the group leader should give remote members equal footing with members that are physically present. Drawing them into meetings and setting a collaborative environment is important. One way to do this is by beginning meetings with a group icebreaker game.

In advance of a group meeting, ask participants to “sign-in” to a conference call with some informative information about themselves. Examples include:

  • A nickname that they have now or would be willing to have (i.e., Stan the Man or Big Red)
  • Identify an adjective with the same initial as their first name which describes them. (i.e., Energetic Emily or Serious Sam)
  • Mention a hobby or personal interest.

The point is to personalize the group and allow members to relate. The information obtained during these openings will jump start communications between participants.

Another option is to pair up team members and ask them to interview each other prior to the first meeting by phone. Some areas to discuss include length of time with the company/in the industry, schools attended, family members, special talents and how they will contribute to the success of the project. At the beginning of the first meeting have the interviewer introduce the interviewee.

Tips for Success

Get the most out of a group icebreaker game by following these tips:

  • Identify the objective of a game and select the right activity.
  • Prepare for the activity in advance. Gather materials and rehearse what you will say.
  • Explain the activity to the participants and check that they understand how the game works.
  • Make note of things that happen during the activity so you can discuss it later.
  • Debrief participants by asking thought-provoking questions such as:
    • How did you feel during the activity?
    • Was it difficult to perform the role? Why?
    • What implication does the activity have on team member interactions?
    • How did the experiences differ among participants.
  • Reinforce learning that occurred by referring to the activity when appropriate and incorporating results in discussions about daily work.
  • Build on successful games and enjoy the communication benefits that result!


  • Miller, Brian Cole. Quick team-building activities for busy managers: 50 exercises that get results in just 15 minutes. New York: Amacom, 2004. Print.
  • Newstrom, John W., and Edward E. Scannell. The big book of team-building games: trust-building activities, team spirit exercises, and other fun things to do. New York: Mcgraw Hill, 1998. Print.

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