In college, I was a member of a student group where each meeting began with a short opening question. I didn’t know anything about meeting facilitation at the time, but I remember liking that part of the meeting.
Fast forward to when I became a manager leading a remote team of 20. Out of habit, I started every meeting with a short opening question: favorite color, smell, food, vacation spots, and on and on.
Icebreaker questions build commonality
Those questions and answers slowly built up, and after six months of working together, our team had a special bond. We no longer knew each other based on our roles at work alone. Bob from Engineering became Bob from Engineering who built canoes, loved the color green, the smell of rain, and volunteered as a coach for his kid’s baseball team.
I later learned that the opening icebreaker question was a common facilitation technique that helps get everyone talking and creates a safe environment. It has the added benefit of helping us learn about each other and our cultures, whether we’re remote or co-located.
My favorite virtual icebreaker questions
There are a thousand icebreaker question recommendations online. Here are some of my favorite questions.
- What is your favorite food and least favorite food?
- What was your first job?
- Tell a story about your name
- Fill in the blank “When I dance, I look like _____”
- What is your favorite comic strip?
- Favorite moment of [insert any time frame]
- What was a “bright spot” from [insert any time frame] (source)
Take a picture of…
If you’ve got a chat system or a back channel where photos can be posted, you can ask questions that can be answered with pictures.
- Your shoes (source)
- View outside your window
- Your work area
- Something on your desk
- The city you’re in (and have people guess where you are)
Tips to keep your virtual icebreakers on track
If you’re hosting a meeting, keep it quick. You are meeting because there are things that need to be discussed as a team.These icebreaker questions should not get in the way of what needs to get done.
Don’t get too personal. Keep your questions to general, light-hearted topics. Unexpected emotions can be triggered when you get too deep.
It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to participate. Make it okay for people to opt out if they want to.
Keep it positive. Negative questions can build on themselves in surprising ways.
Make sure to listen to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast episode about virtual icebreakers for remote teams.
Icebreakers made effortless
When you’re ready to create team icebreakers that work anytime, anywhere, sign up for a free Poll Everywhere account. There are countless ways you can use live polling to involve even the most faraway team members in lively icebreakers, training activities, brainstorming sessions, and anything else you can dream up.