Regardless of whether its your first management gig, or just a new team for you to lead, every manager has a their first meeting with a new team. And while your new employees are likely to be generally cordial and kind, they’re still getting to know you, just as you’re getting to know them.
You want to get past this period quickly because the sooner you know them, their skills and their interests, the sooner you can pilot team to get results.
A common way to get to know your team is through something called ice breakers. While most ice breakers tend to be simple games (Here are some good examples), such activities can also make some employees feel uncomfortable. Really, how many of us are eager to share our childhood nickname with our colleagues?
Keep in mind that ice breaker activities for managers should be helpful, informative and promote a sense of team. As an alternate to games, we wanted to share some other activities that we’ve seen work extremely well. Here are six different ice breaker methods for managers who are trying to settle in with their new teams.
1. The basic intro session
The most common (but all too often the only) effort managers take on their first day is a simple overview of their background. It’s the typical, “Please introduce yourself and tell me something most people don’t know about you… and then I’ll talk for 40 minutes.”
Is this format bad? No, it’s always a good to have an initial sit down with your new team. But the key to such sessions is to make sure you create a conversation. Don’t let it be a one-way dialog. Talk to the employees. Talk about your history and let them ask questions and give you some information about what you can expect.
Here are some questions you might want to ask as part of your introduction meeting with new employees:
Topics for a “Hello my name is…” meeting:
- What do you enjoy about working here?
- What has kept you working here for so long?
- What can I do to make your jobs easier?
- What sorts of challenges are you dealing with right now?
- How would you describe the working relationship with my predecessor?
- Is there something that you think this team is missing?
- If an outsider were to look at this group, what would they say?
- What is the biggest struggle we as a team need to overcome?
- How can I make this a great place to work?
It’s important to ask different types of questions – both positive and constructive – to ensure you get a balanced portrayal of how the team is doing and where the issues might lie. You certainly won’t uncover everything, but a good list of questions will help you get a good read on the team.
2. New manager assimilation
A more formal and orchestrated ice breaker for a new manager is what is known as “New manager assimilation.” Typically, such an activity takes preparation and is often facilitated by a representative from Human Resources. It’s best to do such an event after you’ve had a little time to settle in (approximately 3 months) and first impressions have been had. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: A week before the event, have your HR person meet with your employees independent of you. The HR representative should collect and consolidate answers to the following questions:
“About Us” Questions:
- What do you want your new boss to know about this team?
- How can your new manager help this team be successful?
- What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
- What do you see as the biggest challenge the team is facing?
- What is it that you enjoy about working here?
- How would you describe this team in one word?
Expectations of the manager
- What do you expect of your new manager?
- What do you need your boss to be aware of when it comes to managing this team?
- How do you want your manager to communicate with you? Email, phone, etc?
- How much contact do you expect/need from the manager?
- What can your new manager do to make him/her successful?
- What “hot buttons” does your new boss need to be aware of?
Step 2: Before the new manager assimilation session, prepare your own answers to the following questions:
“About You” questions:
- What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
- How would your family and friends describe you?
- What are the values that drive you?
- What has been your career progression?
- How do you maintain work/life balance?
- Where would you like to go on vacation if you had a month off and money was no object?
- What are your career aspirations?
- Tell us about your family, kids, hobbies.
- Where did you grow up? Where else have you lived?
- Are you a hands-on boss, overseer or highly involved manager?
- What are your “hot buttons?” What are those things that really annoy you and that we should avoid?
- What principles do you value highly in people who work for you?
- How should we balance what you want to be kept informed of?
- How would you describe your management style? How has it changed over time?
- What is your preferred mode of communication? Phone, email, etc?
- What are your goals for the first 6 months and where do we fit into this vision?
- What perceptions do you have coming in to our organization?
- What similarities/differences do you see in this business as compared to prior businesses you have worked in? What can you apply here?
- What are your expectations of staff work/life balance?
- What are your expectations of our working hours and accessibility?
- Do you expect staff to be engaged on weekends? Respond to weekend messages?
- What are your priorities and what do you see as the major obstacles our business needs to overcome?
- What are your top 3 priorities for us?
Step 3: For the event (schedule for 2 hours to ensure ample time is available), start by having your HR representative go through ground rules and expectations of the session. Then, review the answers from you, the manager, first. Follow this by reviewing the answers your employees gave to the questions they answered about themselves.
The key to a great Manager Assimilation is to emphasize and open, two-way conversation. The desired outcome is a sense of one another, and the expectations everyone has going forward.
3. Initial one-on-ones
If you haven’t noticed, we are huge fans of one-on-one coaching meetings with employees. Very early on upon taking your new management position, schedule one-on-one meetings with every employee in your new organization. Even if it takes you a month to get them scheduled for all the people on your staff, take the time to meet with them individually so you can get to know them a little better. Here you can find a downloadable template to help you get the most out of your coaching sessions.
Another reason to do your initial one-on-one meetings with employees quickly (other than just getting to know them as soon as possible): when you’re first taking a new manager position, you are still afforded the luxury of learning. You are still moving a bit slowly as you take it all in. In a few months, your calendar will be full and you may struggle to find the time. Simply put: don’t wait!
4. Schedule a team happy hour
If you are able to get a company sponsored dinner or happy hour, great. If not, make it a voluntary event. Something you can’t do in the office is create a casual, recreational environment. No matter how hard you try, you’re still surrounded by laptops, conference rooms and cubicles. By contrast, getting your team out of the office and into a less work-minded environment is a great way to help everyone relax and to have a casual conversation.
Throw a dinner, a lunch, or a happy hour of sorts to encourage your team to let loose. It’s a great way to offer a social setting where your employees can talk and converse, and it’s one in which you can learn a lot about them in a way that’s not in the confines of the board room.
5. “Tell me something good” kickoff
This is an exercise I’ve seen used a couple of times with great impact, both as a member of the team and as the new manager. Here’s how it works:
Tell me something good:
- Get a stack of Post-It notes and put a single name of an employee on each page.
- Give a Post-It note to every employee in the room, making sure the name they get is not their own.
- Ask your employees to write something good about the person on their Post-It.
- Have the employees fold their papers up and pass them to the front of the room.
- Redistribute the Post-Its making sure the employee does not get their own.
- Have the employees take turns reading the name of the employee and the comments on the page.
This exercise helps you as the manager get to know something about your new team. What sorts of comments are offered? How do the employees respond to what is said about them? Are the comments work-based (“Bob is very detailed in his work”) or more personal (“Mary is great to work with and always has a positive attitude”)?
After everyone shares what’s on their Post-It note, talk to the team about the positive things you hear and highlight any themes you noticed. This is as much for you as it is for them. It’s also a great lead in to a general team dialogue.
6. A letter from someone who knows you
One of the most humbling and effective ice breaker activities I’ve seen for a new for a new manager involved a letter. In this case, it was a new Vice President joining our organization. It was actually in response to one of the items from his manager assimilation with his team (of which I was a member). In response to the question “How would your family and friends describe you?” our new Vice President said “Well, that’s was a good question. I didn’t know, so I asked them.”
He then proceeded to read letters from both of his adult children and a good friend of his. The letters described a family man, a great father, and a banjo player in a bluegrass band. They described a hard-working individual, a perfectionist, and a someone who loved to travel. They described a person who was naturally curious, well-educated and dedicated to life-long learning.
Though a part of his assimilation, the letters had a profound affect on the team. People could relate to various topics and comments. They could relate to him as a parent. They could relate to his love for music, and they could understand how his drive for perfection got him to where he was. Overall, it was a moving and humbling conversation in which a lot of people openly shared personal and professional details, all because of the letters from his close family and friends.