Some time ago, I blogged about an ice breaker I sometimes use in my workshops, and several people now use it. Here is another of my favorites that you’re welcome to use. I call it Crumple and Toss.
After introducing the workshop, I give everyone a sheet of bright yellow paper and ask them to write their response to a sentence completion, such as this one in my Managing Customer Expectations seminar:
“A challenge I face in working with customers is ...”
I assure them that I won’t ask them to disclose what they’ve written.
When they’ve finished, I take another sheet of bright yellow paper and start crumpling it. As I crumple, I tell them, “I said I wouldn’t ask you to share what you’ve written. But perhaps you’d be willing to share what someone else has written.” People quickly realize that we’re about to do something terribly unserious.
I then ask them to crumple up their own sheet and toss it to someone else in the room.
Now, these are adults, mind you, but adults are often delightfully able to let their childlike side emerge if given the chance. Faster than you can say “reams of yellow paper,” crumpled sheets start flying through the air.
When everyone has someone else’s sheet, I ask them to uncrumple it. Then I tell them that I’d like to go around the room and have them each, in turn, read aloud what’s written on the sheet they’re holding.
After they’ve all “reported out,” I point out that most of the challenges they’ve mentioned are the kinds of issues we’ll be addressing in this workshop. And then the class formally begins.
Or not quite, because first I ask them if they’d like to toss their sheets back to where it came from.
What makes this activity so effective?
- It’s readily adaptable. You can select any sentence completion that seems appropriate for the topic you’re presenting.
- It sets the tone for the class by demonstrating that although we’re going to address serious topics, we can be lighthearted and have a few laughs as we do it.
- It lets everyone express their view while maintaining anonymity.
- It gives everyone a chance to speak up, especially those who might otherwise feel reluctant.
- It lets everyone know what all the others see as a challenge.
- It helps people recognize that they are not alone in the challenges they’re facing.
- It gives me insight into their challenges, enabling me to relate the material I present to their expressed concerns.
- It gives me a chance to make mid-course adjustments if there are concerns I hadn’t planned on addressing that are important to them.
Granted, I wouldn’t do this activity with senior managers and I’d be a bit leery with people who take themselves too seriously. Occasionally, I hold my breath as I start this activity. But in years of doing it, it’s never backfired.
Give it a try if you'd like. And please keep me posted.