How many meetings have you been to that are just the same old thing -- boring gatherings you cannot wait to leave. Most meetings are poorly managed and non-productive.

I have been a teacher, management consultant, and meeting facilitator for over twenty years. In the hundreds of classes and seminars I have taught, I have learned one truth -- people learn quicker if you make classes and meetings fun and interesting.

By using team building exercises and meeting icebreakers you can make your next meeting, class, or team building event something dynamic and productive.

It is wise to consider a few basic elements before choosing an exercise or a meeting icebreaker.

Ownership -- First, icebreakers tend to work best when participants have taken ownership of the activity chosen by the facilitator. You must put five key elements in place.

1. Explain the activity.
2. Provide the goals of the activity.
3. Outline the structure of the activity.
4. Allow time for questions.
5. Give permission to participate at their comfort level.

This last element is crucial and overlooked in many cases. Make an announcement at the beginning of an exercise to insure participants understand they are not "bound" to participate in the activity.

For those who opt out, perhaps ask them to be "observers" and see if they are comfortable providing a debriefing at the end of the event. Provide them something constructive to do during the exercise. When given the freewill to choose, people will take greater ownership of their participation.

Set the Climate -- Icebreakers set the climate for the event to proceed. With this understanding, it makes sense to choose an icebreaker that is in alignment with the climate of the meeting. An icebreaker or team building exercise could send a wrong message. The unintended message could send the meeting in a different direction. Therefore, it makes sense to spend the time to choose the proper meeting icebreaker.

Learning Objectives -- Some trainers and facilitators prefer using either a meeting icebreaker or team building exercise focused on the learning objectives related to the meeting, training program, or goal of the group. Others prefer using an unrelated exercise just to break the ice. However, each icebreaker is dynamic and has both intended and unintended consequences. Consider this prior to the event so you can maximize the experience and build a cohesive meeting.

Safety -- The first rule is not to take any chances that could cause physical injury to your participants.

One of my favorite team building exercises is called the "Terrorist Toxic Popcorn Situation." This is an easy exercise for both adults and teens. The goal is to decontaminate a can of "toxic" popcorn that has been secretly placed in the room by "terrorists." Your team must quickly come up with a plan of action; assemble tools and equipment, transfer the material into a "safe" container before the "toxic" substance explodes. This is a great game to identify the planners, doers, and thinkers in your group. It also demonstrates the importance of having a good plan.

A Great Day for Hats!

Give each participant a donut-shaped piece of felt or other material approximately 18 inches in diameter. Tell participants to form a hat with the material. Participants should have enough time to make their hat. At the end of the team exercise, allow each person to explain the hat they created. You can also put people on teams and have some friendly competition between the groups on who can come up with the most creative hat.

Letters and Names

Give each person a few moments to think of an adjective starting with the same first letter in his or her first name (e.g. "Great Greg"). Begin by modeling it yourself. Then go around the group asking each person to state their name/adjective combination. During various points of the exercise, or at the end, ask volunteers to remember and repeat each of the names and adjectives volunteered so far. Provide prizes to those who do the best job.

The Napkin Game

Ask participants to form equal size groups. Give each group a napkin and ask them to fold the napkin as small as possible. However, it must be large enough for members of the team to place their toe on the napkin.

Paper-Tearing Exercise

This meeting icebreaker only takes about 5 minutes to conduct.

Give everyone a blank 8 ½-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Tell them the following: “We are going to do something that will show us some important things about communication. Pick up your sheet of paper and hold it in front of you. Close your eyes and follow my directions—and no peeking -- you cannot ask questions.”

Then tell them the following. “Fold your sheet of paper in half. Now tear off the upper right-hand corner. Fold it in half again and tear off the upper left hand corner of the sheet.

Fold it in half again. Now tear off the lower right-hand corner of the sheet.”

After the tearing is complete, say something like “Now open your eyes, and let’s see what you have. If I did a good job of communicating and you did a good job of following my directions, all of your sheets should look the same!”

Hold your sheet up for them to see. It is highly unlikely any sheet will match yours exactly.

Ask the group why no one’s piece of paper matched yours. You will probably get responses like “You didn’t let us ask questions!” or “Your directions could be interpreted in different ways.” Then, lead them in a discussion about the need for effective communication.

Greg Smith's cutting-edge keynotes, consulting, and training programs have helped businesses build better teams, reduce turnover, increase sales, hire better people and deliver better customer service. He has authored nine informative books including his best-selling book called, Icebreakers and Teambuilding Exercises. He lives in Conyers, Georgia. Sign up for his free Navigator Newsletter and get more free meeting icebreakers by visiting or call (770) 860-9464.

Author's Bio: 

Greg shows executives and managers how to create high performance work environments that attract and retain their workforce. Greg is the founder and President of Chart Your Course International, a talent management firm located in Atlanta, Georgia. He has addressed organizations in nine countries and has developed strategies and training programs for some of the "Best Companies to Work For in America," such as, Yamaha, Delta Airlines, Maxell, Turner Broadcasting, Rollins Inc., King and Spalding, Merrill Lynch, Ace Hardware, State Farm Insurance Company, AFLAC, Sweetheart Cups, KMPG, Alltell Corporation, the U.S. Army, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, The Young Presidents Organization, Wyndham Hotels, UNISYS, and Hallmark Cards.

Prior to starting his own company, he built his career on the front line as a U.S. Army Officer. During his career he went from 2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel. His career culminated as a consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General. As the Director of Quality Management and Strategic Planning for the U.S. Army Medical Department, he played a major role in “Reinventing the Government” efforts spearheaded by the Vice President of the United States.

Greg served on the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. This award is presented by the President of the United States each year and is the nation's highest honor for business excellence. Greg has received many awards and honors including being listed in Harvard University's Profiles in Business and Management: An International Directory of Scholars and Their Research. The Human Resource Executive Magazine selected him as one of the nation’s Top-Ten "Rising Stars" in Human Resource Management. Other awards include the Legion of Merit from the U.S. Army, the Order of Military Medical Merit, and the Eagle Scout award. He is listed in the Who's Who of Professional Speaking, and holds both a B.S. and M.S. degree in Human Resource Management.

Greg believes the pen is mightier than the sword. He has written over 350 articles and five books including, The New Leader: Bringing Creativity and Innovation to the Workplace and Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High-Retention has helped organizations worldwide with their retention and talent management efforts. He has been featured in hundreds of newspapers, magazines and websites including HR Magazine, Business Week, President & CEO, Boston Globe, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, USA Today, Training, Christian Science Monitor, and Exame, South America’s largest business magazine. He has appeared on numerous television programs including Bloomberg Business News and PBS television.

When he is not traveling or writing, he is a happy husband to his college sweetheart and father to his three children. On his best days you will find him sailing, biking, scuba diving, and raising bonsai trees.