As I was scrolling through my social media feeds this week, I noticed a trend that more tech companies are announcing a permanent move to hybrid or even a “remote-first” approach for the indefinite future. As companies look to 2021 and make budgeting and resourcing decisions, it’s not a mystery why many are choosing to reduce investment in physical spaces and double down on the remote work infrastructure if their business model allows it. That means many of your meetings will be moving online to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Skype or any of the video conferencing applications available.
That means (you guessed it) all of those Zoom meetings and working remotely are here to stay, too! If you are finding that your team meetings are getting stale and the team is checking out, it might be time to change up your meeting and bring in a Zoom icebreaker—and I’m not talking about the kind of icebreaker my 5-year-old does with her kindergarten class on Zoom (although, if you want to see what the kids are up to these days, check out Go Noodle). While the virtual activities will be different for your team, the purpose of the icebreaker (or sometimes ice breaker) is the same—to energize and engage the team.
There have been many articles written on the topic, so I’ve scoured the internet to bring you the best ideas I could find, categorized by the purpose of the activity. Just because we have to work from home on a video call, dosn't mean that we can't increase team engagement virtually.
Work-Focused Zoom Icebreakers
- One Word or Phrase. We use this all the time at Rhythm Systems. I’ve seen lots of variations, ranging from very simple (one word to share how you’re feeling today) to more complex (one word to describe our company culture, or whatever the meeting is about). This is a great way to break the ice at the start of the meeting if you are a tight knit team.
- Future Headlines. Ask each person to write a newspaper or magazine headline for the company in 10 years. Give everyone time to work independently and have time for sharing with the larger group.
- Company Stories. We often open our monthly meeting with Core Values stories or brags about other team members who we’ve noticed living our core values. You can ask people to share any kind of company story or victory to help people feel more positive and engaged.
Zoom Team Bonding Exercises
- Round-Robin Questions. If you want to keep it simple, just open your meetings by having everyone answer the same question. You can change it up every day or week (based on your meeting rhythms). As you can imagine, the possibilities for these questions are endless, but if you need some help getting started, see the Icebreaker Question list below.
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
- What’s your favorite season?
- Which historical figure would you want to meet?
- What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever visited?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- What has been the best day of your life so far?
- What do you want people to remember you for?
- What has been most influential in your life so far?
- What’s the worst travel experience you’ve ever had?
- What’s one important quality of a great boss?
- What’s your biggest personal goal?
- What’s the best TV show you’re watching?
- What’s your biggest accomplishment?
- What do you like most about remote work?
- What do you miss most about your office?
- What did you have for breakfast?
- What were you most afraid of as a kid?
- What’s the most-listened-to song in your streaming playlist?
- Have you ever left a one-star review online?
- What is your #1 personal productivity tip?
- What’s the most interesting article you’ve read lately?
- Which website do you use most often?
- What was your first concert?
- What is your favorite junk food or snack?
- What is your favorite book?
- What is your favorite animal and why?
- Would You Rather. If you want something faster than open questions, try giving everyone an option to choose (Ice Cream or cake? Beach or mountains? Netflix or Hulu? Again, endless possibilities). You can have everyone shout it out, raise a hand to vote or share round-robin as a great Zoom icebreaker game.
- 2 Truths and a Lie. The same classic game you played in childhood—just now over Zoom! Each person shares 3 things and the group has to guess which is the lie. For smaller groups, keep it conversational and just shout out guesses; for bigger crowds, put the answers on a slide or virtual whiteboard and have everyone annotate a dot with their guesses.
- Guessing Game. This one involves everyone sharing a little known fact (something they did when they were younger, an interesting skill or story) and others guessing which fact belongs to which team member.
- Share a Picture. There are so many variations on this one, too. You can ask everyone to share their most recent picture on their camera roll and tell what it is, have people share a photo that’s meaningful to them and say why, ask people to share a photo of their desk or workspace, take a picture of something they saw outside their house, share an embarrassing photo, or their favorite food they cooked. You can also use photos to do a variation on the guessing game - guess who’s baby picture is whose, or ask people to take very zoomed in pictures of objects in their home and have people guess what the picture is.
- Virtual Background Fun. Rather than just asking people to share a picture of something, ask everyone to come with a themed virtual background (maybe their favorite vacation spot or the place they are most looking forward to visiting after quarantine, or a scene from your favorite TV show or movie).
- Share an Object. This one’s another classic that works great on Zoom—the old “Show and Tell” from elementary school. You can leave it open-ended or ask for something specific like something that reminds them of their goals, brings them joy, or makes them laugh.
- Meet the Pets (or Kids, or Partners). By now, you’ve probably had enough guest appearances to feel like you know your coworkers’ pets, roommates and family members, so you might as well make it official. Ask everyone to introduce their person or pet to the team.
- Virtual Tour. You could take turns having team members give tours of their homes, their workspaces, or their neighborhoods if their signal is strong enough.
- Build a Birth Map. Create a collaborative map in Google Maps and ask everyone to drop a pin where they were born. Then, you can ask people to share something about where they were born.
- Essentials or Favorites. Ask each person to share the most essential app on their phone, book on their shelf, appliance in their kitchen, etc. and compile a list of essentials to share with the group. Or, ask everyone’s favorite recipe, TV show, song lyrics, movie lines, etc. and share those.
- Bucket List. Ask everyone to share their bucket list of things they want to do before they die. We did a similar exercise once, and our founders actually went out of their way to help people on the team cross off items like authoring a book or pursuing a dream of acting.
Zoom Activities to Build Trust and Deepen Relationships
- Personality Inventories. If you have more time, and maybe some budget to invest, you can also have your team take personality tests and share the results - maybe what most surprised them or one thing each person felt was most and least accurate about their results. This is a great way to learn about each other; popular tools include Myers Briggs, StrengthsFinder, Disc and there are lots of free quizzes out there, too.
- Life stories. Pair people up into breakout groups and ask them to take turns sharing their life stories in 5 minutes. Then, the person listening has to tell the story to the larger group.
- Common Ground. Put the team into small groups or pairs and ask them to list as many things as possible they have in common in a set amount of time. The team with the longest list wins!
- Rapid Fire Teams. Randomly assign people into pairs in breakout rooms and have them complete a task together in 2 minutes: create a “secret handshake” based on their hometown, a “touchdown dance” based on a recent victory, or a nickname based on a childhood story.
Promoting Team Work and Problem Solving Exercises
- Simulated problems. Create scenarios based on something the team may actually face one day. Ask them to strategize together and come up with a solution and a plan to communicate and execute on it.
- Alien Invasion. Divide up the group and tell them that aliens have landed. Each team has to create 5 simple drawings to explain what your company does so the aliens will understand. Share the images and look for common themes from team to team.
- Letter Hunt. Put the team into breakout rooms and give them all 5 minutes to find an object for every letter of the alphabet (a - apple, b - book, etc.). One person on each team will write the objects down. The team will have to communicate well to prevent overlap and get creative on some of the letters.
- Birthday Lineup. In this challenge, the participants have to put themselves in order by their birthday - month and day, not year 🙂 - without talking or typing to each other. Each person has to write down the number in order they believe they fall (if there are 10 people and I think my birthday is first, I’d write down 1.) When time’s up, everyone reveals their numbers and the facilitator checks to see how the team did.
- Desert Island. Give each small group a list of items and ask them to select which 3 they would bring on a desert island with them and why. The teams have to work together to come up with the list.
Exercises to Get Moving on Zoom
- Dance Break. If the team is getting punchy, put on a song and do a 30-second dance break. Cameras optional for this - you can get a good laugh from each other’s dad moves, or you can let people dance like nobody’s watching. Another fun version of this is to have everyone mute Zoom and dance to their own music.
- Moving Trivia. For a longer brain break, you can ask a few yes or no trivia questions and have people stand up for yes and sit down for no, or some other physical activity (jump for yes, hand up for yes, etc.) If someone misses a question, they can turn off the Zoom camera to be “out” until the next round.
- Pass the Love. Ask everyone to turn on the Gallery view in Zoom and stand up. Have everyone think of something wonderful to share with someone else on the team. When it’s your turn, pretend to hold a box or ball, explain your lovely idea, and pretend to pass the box to a person who’s next to you in the Gallery view of Zoom. They receive the box and pass the love to someone else.
- Theme Days. Have different themes for your weekly team meetings where the team dresses up or uses a virtual background related to the theme. Hawaiian shirt day, PJ day, hat day… you get the idea.
- Games. Could be super simple like Paper Rock Scissors, online trivia, or another virtual group game.
Rhythm Systems has conducted hundreds of virtual strategic planning sessions, weekly meetings, annual planning and quarterly planning sessions. If your company is looking to build accountable and productive teams in the work from world, check out our virtual strategic planning service.
The possibilities are ENDLESS, thank goodness, because so are the virtual meetings. If you haven’t had enough, here’s a list of all the resources I used for this article so you can dig for more gold 🙂 If you are looking for ways to improve your business for the new normal, check out our popular SWOT Analysis COVID 19 blog article as a way to get started.
Here are additional resources for virtual meetings:
Rhythm Systems Quarterly Planning Resource Center
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images