8 playful ways…

8 playful ways
– Break the ice –  Build up great teams – Activate lazy brains –

Have you ever been invited to a meeting with a lot of colleagues you don´t know the name of, not to mention you haven´t met any of them before. Or slightly trickier: have you been in the situation to facilitate a workshop with random people that should work closely together for the next hours though not knowing each other at all? You want those people to collaborate together, being creative and productive, building up a team spirit.

But also existing teams sometimes need a new impulse and a push towards better team orientation. During our daily business we forget easily how we actually want to work together. We fall into bad habits that lead to even worse communication and interaction with each other. And what is worse than coming back to a workshop after lunch and being overwhelmed with the next presentation straight away? Our brain needs to wake up and stimulated to do a great job.

Discover and try out some of my favorite games to break the ice, build up great teams and activate lazy brains.

  • Snowball Fight

    Type: Ice Breaker | Time: 10-15 min | Group size: minimum 5 | Material: paper & pen ↬ Breaks the ice even on hot days!

  • Candy Crush

    Type: Ice Breaker/ Retrospective | Time: ~ 15 min | Group size: minimum 3 | Material: Loads of candies & a flip chart ↬ Candy is dandy!

  • Lego Serious Play

    Type: Ice Breaker/ Introduction | Time: ~ 30 min | Group size: 3-10 | Material: Lego bricks ↬ Play it cool!

  • Bad Idea

    Type: Brain Refresher | Time: 10-15 min | Group size: Teams of 3-5 people | Material: Arts & Crafts material ↬ Turns the worst idea into a success story!

  • Illustration

    Type: Team Communication | Time: ~ 30 min | Group size: Teams of 5-7 | Material: Whiteboard ↬ Where do you cross the line?

  • Paper Boat

    Type: Brain Refresher | Time: 7-10 min | Group size: Teams of 2 people | Material: Paper ↬ Show what two weak hands can create!

  • Portrait Me

    Type: Ice Breaker/ Introduction | Time: ~ 10 min | Group size: minimum 5 | Material: Paper & Pen ↬ Discover how your team pictures you!

  • Three Brains

    Type: Brain Refresher | Time: ~ 10 min | Group size: Teams of 4 people | Material: only people matter ↬ You don´t need any coffee afterwards, promised!

Snowball Fight

SNOWBALL FIGHT

This is a very easy and quick introduction game. All you need is a paper and pen for each person. Print a sheet of paper with three questions such as name, function/ department, expectation or more personal statements like hobby, latest travel destination, favorite candy etc. Then ask the participants to crumple the paper and form a “snowball”. Everyone needs to get up now. They can spread in the room and mix up. Now, let the fun begin: start throwing the paper snowballs at each other. Continue to throw them around for a couple of minutes. When they are exhausted enough, let them pick up one random snowball. Let this person then introduce the colleague he or she picked up by reading out the answers in the paper.

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Too easy? Let the person only read out the answers and let the remaining participants in the room guess who it is!  

↬ This team introduction game is perfect for bigger groups because it´s easy, quick, simple to understand and execute, and it activates your group. It lets them get “in touch” with each other in a fun way and draws the attention during introduction on two people at the same time: rather shy and introverted participants don´t have to talk about themselves only, and when the stage is theirs, they can talk about someone else. Win win.

PORTRAIT ME!

This is by far one of my favorite intro games. Each time I played it I couldn´t stop laughing about the creative results. But let´s start from the beginning. Again what you need is pretty simple: paper and pen for each person. The group should sit in a circle so that everyone can face each other. Provide every person with an A3 paper and ask them to draw a line on the bottom of the paper and write their name below it. Now let them pass the sheet of paper over to the person to their left. For this game it needs one moderator who is the time keeper: 5 to 10 seconds per round. The time per round depends a bit on the number of people. If you have a huge group keep it short, if you have up to 10 people go for some more time. The participants are now asked to draw the person whose name is on the paper. If the time is up, the unfinished (!) portrait has to move to the next person to their left. Again for e.g. 7 seconds everyone is asked to continue (do not start a new drawing!) the portrait in front of them. Continue the round until each participant gets his or her own portrait back. Et voilá – I bet this is the most beautiful painting of yourself you will ever get, drawn by your colleagues. Show it to the world, and introduce yourself now by showing your picture to the group.

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You miss the icing on the cake? Use the portraits as poster to show how you can support the team. Let them write down “things I can help you with” on stickies and put it on the portrait. That highlights not only the strengths of each individual, but emphasis the broad spectrum of capabilities of the team. “Things I can help you with” can range from skills such as ‘front end iOS development’ over ‘story writing’ to ‘Whiskey expert’. Every skill can be placed here, may it be personal or professional.

↬ “Portrait me” is a really good way to make participants who don´t know each introduce themselves in a funky way. It draws the attention of each team member at least once to every other member in the round. You are forced to deal with that person without talking at all. Moreover, it´s a very easy method to make even the most professional people laugh. This game doesn´t know any hierarchy – the group is on an equal basis. And I promise fun is granted.

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY

Just recently I joined my first workshop with Lego Serious Play – and what I really liked about it is the wide range of possible applications. This method is not only a fun way to break the ice between a group of people, but it was mainly developed to create innovative ideas around products and services. Contrary to very well-known innovation methodologies like Design Thinking, the motto of Lego Serious Play is “think with your hands” and was established by Lego itself with the goal to foster innovation in a playful way. Therefore, you usually have a trained coach who facilitates the session. Also the sets consist of a certain arrangement of Lego bricks that were especially selected for the purpose of Lego Serious Play. However, for an informal ice breaker or introduction game you can put together your own set of bricks.

Let´s have a look how you can use Lego for an introduction round within a group. Basically everything you need is the Lego Serious Play Starter Set (where to buy) to hand out to each participant. Alternatively you can fish out some bricks from the box of your childhood or just borrow some from your kids (don´t forget to bring them back!).

The task is simple: create yourself! You can use any brick that´s on the table (if you have the starter kit, please just use your own set of bricks). Create a figure that presents who you are. You can plot yourself in a work environment or just in a private setting with your kids and husband. Whatever matters to you, what defines you, what symbolizes your personality – there are no boundaries. Ideally the exercise is time boxed to 5 minutes. When the time is up ask the team members to present their creations to the group.

Getting to know team members by Lego creations is not only fun because it reminds us of our childhood and makes us feel like kids again, the main advantages are the non-obvious ones. Playing around with Lego is as enjoyable for managers as for interns. Hierarchy doesn´t play any role. Moreover, there are no discussions about the interpretation of certain bricks: whether the green flat brick is a meadow, lettuces, a sofa or a shoe is out of discussion. There is no right or wrong, and every creative interpretation is accepted because YOU are the only one that gives meaning to it in your very own context. Third, people that may say that they are not creative e.g. rather analytical employees, find their place in that game. Every created figure is individual and creative exactly the way it is build. Finally, during the introduction the groups´ focus is on the figure and not on the person itself. That´s often less stressful especially for people that feel uncomfortable in new groups and need some time to warm up.

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Wanna play more? There is a huge variety in using the Lego Serious Play method. I introduced the simple ice-breaker game, but in it´s origin it´s meant to foster innovative thinking and coming up with new ideas by approaching a certain topic in a „hands on“ way. You can even extend it to run retrospectives and gather feedback from your team.

↬ Work smart, play hard!

PAPER BOAT

Is there anybody out there who has not build a paper boat at least once in their lifetime? Building paper boats is probably the most loved handicraft work of school kids of nowadays and back then. But we lift it to a higher degree of difficulty and turn it into a great team work exercise that will activate your brain. Let´s kill two birds with one stone. The material you need is again super simple: one sheet of paper. Let the group form teams of two. The task is to build a paper plane – as a team – with only one hand per team member – in fact their weak hand. Time box the game to 10 minutes max. Each team needs to build a paper boat without instructions by using only their weak hand.

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Ready for take-off! Let´s see who built the best paper plane and start a competetion between the teams. Whose paper plane hits the goal?   

↬ Using our weak hand requires a lot of brain capacity and it stimulates important areas in our brain. Therefore, this little exercise is not only great to wake us up after a nice lunch break, but it also encourages communication between team members and fosters collaborative work. Firstly, you need to know and agree on how your paper plane should look like. Everyone builds it slightly different and there are different understandings of a “good end product”. Secondly, without talking to each other which corner needs to be folded first and so on, your team probably won´t get anywhere. This is pure team work!

BAD IDEA

“Bad Idea” is always a good idea to train your creativity and sales skills. Simple set up: provide the participants with some handicraft material like sticky notes, tape, flipchart, pens, scissor, cardboard etc. You don´t need to put much effort into the equipment. The less predefined working material is given, the more creative the group needs to be. Build teams of 3 to maximum 5 people. Now, you give the challenging task to the group to introduce and sell a really bad idea to their peers. How do you like these product ideas?

A toothpaste with egg flavor
An invisible key
A paper umbrella
A concrete hat
An infinite escalator
A green-colored day cream
A car/bicycle with square wheels…

Come up with your own crazy ideas to make it even more challenging. Limit the preparation phase to 5 minutes. The pitch of the idea to the audience should not exceed 2 minutes.

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And the winner is… select the team with the idea with the highest customer value. It´s gonna be a tough decision!

↬ “Bad Idea” makes you think in totally different ways and pushes you towards creativity and imaginativeness.

THREE BRAINS

It gets more advanced! For this game you need nothing more than groups of 4.

One person stands in the middle. Behind their left and right shoulder there is another person respectively. The last group member is facing the person in the middle. The two people left and right just have one task: asking the one in the middle questions constantly. They should ask the same kind of questions over and over again. The left person only asks for colors “What´s the color of your shirt? The color of the sun? The color of the floor? The color of the sky?” And so on and so forth. The person on the right asks mathematical questions such as “1+1? 6*9+3? 7*11? 86-30?” Etc. But remember, all of that happens at the same time! The person in the middle has to give the answer first before it can be continued with the next one. To make it even more challenging the fourth person facing the middle man comes into play. His task is to make very precise movements with his hands and body: forming figures like a square or triangle, clapping hands, stand on one leg, turn around… It´s the middle man who has to imitate those gestures as best as he can. You can find an explanatory video here.

It won´t take more than 30 seconds until your brain is wide awake. Switch between the group members after 2-3 minutes so that everyone gets the chance to be the middle man.

↬ Three Brains is the perfect game to make everyone communicate with each other in a completely different way. If your brain is still sleepy afterwards, I can recommend a double espresso!

CANDY CRUSH

Yees, most of you may know this addictive game as digital smartphone version. However, this version of Candy Crush is played fully offline, and on top of that it´s super delicious. The set-up is fairly easy: some random candies in a bag. You can put all sorts of gummy bears, mini chocolate bars and other sweets in it. Just make sure it´s colorful and delicious. Now, you ask your participants one by one to pick one candy out of the bag, of course without looking. For each color of gummy bears, chocolate bar brand or taste you prepare questions. Those questions can vary from very professional to rather personal questions. Each participant picks a candy from the bag and answers the according question. It´s not necessary that everyone answers every question. What counts is the surprise which candy they pick. Here are some example questions:

Chocolate Bars
Twix = What´s your department?
Bounty = What´s your expectation for today?
Snickers = What´s your professional background?

Gummy Bear Colors
red = What did you like most about session X?
green = Why would you improve on product Y?
yellow = How what you change about Z?

↬ Candy Crush is an easy and quick game for both new formed teams and established teams. It can be used as introduction game to get to know each other as well as methodology for running retrospectives. The good thing is that the selection of questions is solely in your hand, thus it´s in your hands to steer the group discussion.

ILLUSTRATION

This is a great team communication exercise. Often teams that work together for some time already fall into communication routines by using a certain e.g. very technical language that turns out to be very inefficient because there are people in the team that do not speak that language. However, they´re not aware of their own patterns and those of others which leads to miscommunication. “Illustration” uncovers those patterns and shows each team member in a playful way how miscommunication might happen.

You don´t need more than a whiteboard and a pen to run this session. If you have a very big group divide them into smaller teams of 5-7 people. If you play it with your own developer team of e.g. 7 engineers that´s perfect. Chose one of the group who is the illustrator. Place the whiteboard between the illustrator and the rest of the group so that they cannot see each other anymore. The illustrator´s task is to draw icons on the whiteboard. These icons can be simple but shouldn´t be too easy either.

How do you like those?

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And more challenging
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The trick: the illustrator does not see the images. Only the team on the other side of the whiteboard is shown the images by the moderator. And to make it even more difficult they are the only ones that are allowed to speak. The illustrator´s job is solely to draw on the whiteboard following the verbal instructions by the rest of the team.

The goal is to have the best possible copy of the image on the whiteboard which was shown to the team before. When the team decides that they gave every detail about the image to the illustrator, the first round of the exercise is finished.

Let the two parties share their feedback with each other: how did they experience the situation? How easy has it been to follow the verbal instructions of the team members? Who took the lead in the communication? Or was everyone equally involved? Which style of communication works most efficiently? And which style didn´t work at all?

Light bulb free iconIllustration is easy to twist and tweak according to your purpose and the team size. You can run sessions in pairs in which person A describes an image to person B sitting back to back. You can make the images and icons more or less difficult. For example start with the description of a specific form e.g. a square in the middle with a triangle touching the upper left corner, and then move to more abstract images such as a light bulb which is described to the illustrator. Anyway, do always have a feedback round afterwards as this game is meant to improve communication after all.

↬ This game is all about communication! Following and giving solely verbal instructions of and to team members reveals all different styles of communication that exist within a team. Even though you thought your styles match in daily business you might be taught a better. Use Illustrator to find out who is leading communications, who gives instructions and in which way, and who´s rather holding back.

OUT OF THE BOX

We sometimes have more in common as we might think when we meet people for the first time. It´s in our nature to quickly judge about someone and put them into a certain box. STEP Out Of Your Box is the motto of this interactive ice breaker game. It´s super simple and just requires a little bit of space in the room.

Think about a couple of questions that might relate to the work context of the group or that are completely independent from it.

Some examples: Who of you has pitched an innovative idea within the last six months? Who of you is in Munich for the first time? Who is with the company for twelve months or less? Who speaks more than 3 languages? Who works internationally? Who prefers car sharing over ownership? Who travelled more than five hours to be at this workshop? …

Then ask those questions to the participants and make them to step out of their box when they see themselves as part of the answer.

↬ The effect of social connection and togetherness based on individual facts is what makes this game so valuable. People literally leave their well-known comfort zone of peers, and get in touch with alike colleagues they wouldn't thought of having anything in common with. Simple, but effective!

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