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Tips & Techniques: Icebreaker


Take the group to an open space, indoors or out. Then follow the detailed instructions below for this activity.


Ask participants to imagine that the space represents a map, go to the place on the map “where your journey began”—where they were born.



1. Ask participants to join you in imagining that the space represents a map. Using natural landmarks (trees, rocks) or furniture (chairs, easels, standing lamps), lay out the corners of the “map.”

  • If the group is primarily from the U.S., lay out a U.S. map (“The tree is Maine, the rock is Florida”) and add an “airport entry lounge” for people who were not born in the continental United States.
  • If the group is international, lay out a world map with North and South America in the center, Europe and Africa to one side, Asia and the South Pacific to the other (“The red chair is Europe, the lamp is South America, the easel is Asia,” and so on.)

2. Ask participants to go to the place on the map “where your journey began”—where they were born. When everyone is in place, ask participants to announce where they are standing (“Detroit, Michigan;” “Snohomish, Washington;” “Santiago, Chile;” “Manila, Philippines,” and so on.)

3. Ask participants to form groups of three or four with the people they are standing closest to on the map. Give them about five minutes to discuss the beginning of their “work journeys” by answering these questions:

  • What was your first paying job?
  • What did you learn about work at that job?

4. When the time is up, ask for volunteers to share one or two examples of their first jobs and what they learned from those jobs.

5. If you are using a U.S. map, widen it to represent the world. Then ask participants to go to some place on the map that they would like to visit. When everyone has selected a place, go around the room and ask them to say where they are and what they’re doing there.

Note: You can skip Step 6 if you are pressed for time.



6. If all the people in the workshop are from the same company, ask them to do the following in silence, without any verbal communication:

  • Form a single line with the person who has been with the company the longest at one end and the newest employee at the other end. The line should curve so that they can all see one another.
  • Let participants decide which end is which and figure out how to communicate without speaking.

Note: If participants are not from the same company, you might ask them to line up (silently) in order of their birth date (not the year, just the day of the year).

  • When participants have lined up, explain that you would like them to introduce themselves, giving the following information:
    • Name
    • Job or department
    • How long they’ve been with the organization
    • A leadership fantasy: If they could lead any group of people on any endeavor—science, business, social, travel, athletic, anything—what might it be?

Set the example by using this format to introduce yourself.

After participants have introduced themselves, return to the training room. Cover the logistics (the agenda, restrooms, food arrangements, and so on.)

Make a transition to the next activity: “Now that we know each other, let’s get to work.”

Adapted from The Leadership Challenge Workshop Facilitator’s Guide, 4th Edition by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Copyright © 2010 by The Leadership Challenge®, A Wiley Brand. All Rights Reserved. 



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