By building understanding then we can create trust between people which allows them to be more creative with one another

I run a lot of workshops. If you work in digital then you probably do as well.

For me, any session like this is an opportunity to build a level of understanding and empathy between different groups of people, often with different perspectives. The outcomes are important, but usually not as important as the process of collaboration that helps get you to them.

A tool that is often employed by facilitators to help speed along the establishment of trust in these situations, is the dreaded icebreaker. When used well, I genuinely believe that they can help establish an environment in which better work is done. Even when done badly, they can help bring people together — usually against the facilitator though, which is probably worth avoiding.

The below is a list that has served me well, but beware, all of them suit personality types that are comfortable sharing and to some degree performing in front of others.

Creativity = Awesomeness

Many of the games below are inspired by the unbelievable group, 64 Million Artists. They exist to help individuals better express their innate creativity — often transforming organisations as they do so.

Their theory is that by applying a bit of creativity we are expressing a part of ourselves. By then sharing that, we are helping others to understand that bit of us. Throw into that a little bit of reflection and you’re well on the way to icebreakers which break down barriers, bring people together and help us learn about ourselves.

Cloud or Sea shape spotting

The game we all played as children — spotting shapes in Clouds or Sea pictures… Print some of these out, give everyone a Sharpie and let them run wild. Don’t forget to ask people to share what they see.

Water with a shape traced over some of its curves
Print out photos of clouds or water and ask people to draw what shapes they see in them
Clouds with shapes traced over some of its curves

Pick your favourite Instagram post

Not for everyone, but if you’re with a team that’s fairly digital, then get them to look through their Instagram feed for a minute and select which image they like the most and why. You’ll be amazed what some people will own up to!

Get people to look through their Instagram feed for a minute and select which image they like the most and why

Partner Portrait

Break people into pairs and get them to do a quick sketch of their partner. They also need to include 3 things that this person is interested in. Then share back to the group.

Break people into pairs and get them to do a quick sketch of their partner

Family Crest

Draw a family crest of yourself (or you can use a partner as above) which includes:

  • Your favourite food
  • An item you own which is important to you
  • An animal of some sort
  • A location

Then share back to the group explaining each one.

Draw a family crest that includes important information about yourself

Introduce yourself, your role and your favourite chocolate bar

A good one for just getting things up and running nice and quickly if you don’t have too much time.

Simply asking for a little bit of non-work information builds understanding about people

A portrait of your favourite person with memories

Along the same lines of Partner Portraits, but a little more revealing this exercise is best done with a group that’s already got a level of trust established.

By building understanding of people outside of work we increase trust between them