Icebreakers, or check-in questions, are often used by teams to connect on a personal level and improve their way of working. As a new scrum master, you might have a few go-to questions up your sleeve, but may find you’re in need of fresh ideas. We’ve compiled a list of resources to help you feel confident trying different types of icebreakers with your teams.
What are the benefits of using icebreakers?
- Icebreakers can help build connections on a team by allowing us to get to know one another outside of job roles. This can be especially important on distributed teams, since the opportunity for “water cooler” conversation is limited.
- Icebreakers can invite vulnerability, which deepens trust and connection on a team.
- Icebreakers can be a great transition point, helping team members shift from whatever they were doing to the new meeting or task at hand.
- Icebreakers can help energize the team by getting them to think creatively, especially first thing in the morning or after lunch.
Things to keep in mind when practicing ice-breakers:
- Participation is encouraged but not mandatory. It’s important to recognize that it might feel uncomfortable for someone to share. Check-ins can be vulnerable, so it is important to respect someone’s choice not to participate in order to develop a sense of emotional and psychological safety on a team.
- There are many situations in which icebreakers can be used. Ice breakers can be practiced during regular team meetings, when welcoming new team members, to kick-off a meeting or event, to close out a meeting, or whenever the scrum master senses a need to check-in.
- Check in on the check-ins. If you’ve used icebreakers with your team, ask them how they’re liking this practice. Questions to ask could include: is there a certain check-in you find most valuable? What do you think of the cadence of check-ins? What do you think about check-ins in general?
Most-Used Icebreakers at ScrumAlliance
1. Visual check-ins (sharing pictures, emojis, videos)
- Since we work on distributed teams, we often do a simple check-in using tools such as Miro or Slack.
- Idea 1: Ask each team member to share an emoji or series of emojis to illustrate how they’re feeling or what’s on their mind.
- Idea 2: Ask each team member to share an image that represents how they’re feeling, something they’re looking forward to, a favorite vacation spot, etc.
- Idea 3: Ask each team member to share a Youtube link to a song that represents their current mood, etc.
2. One-word check-ins
- Some of the best check-ins are simple and straight to the point. One-word check-ins are a great option when you’re short on time or want to take a quick pulse of the team.
- Idea 1: Ask each team member to share one word that describes what’s on their mind or how they’re showing up to the meeting. This simple exercise acknowledges people’s feelings and gets them talking from the very beginning of the conversation.
- Idea 2: Ask each team member to share how they’re feeling at the end of a meeting to get a sense of the impact or take-away.
3. Emotional check-ins
- While some check-ins can be fun and silly, others can offer an opportunity for deeper reflection. Emotional check-ins are a great way to build trust and connection on the team and provide an opportunity for the team to evaluate how their way of working feels. It also allows an opportunity for people to share how things outside of work may be impacting them.
- Idea 1: Ask each team member to describe how they are showing up emotionally to the meeting (e.g. tired, hungry, worried, etc.).
- Idea 2: Ask each team member to share one word that describes how they are feeling leaving a meeting. You can do a one-word emotional check-in before and after a meeting to see how things may have changed.
- Idea 3: Ask each team member to share how they’re feeling after a big announcement or event.
- Keep in mind, some people might not be used to talking about emotions in the workplace, so emotional check-ins might be uncomfortable for them. Remember, participation is not mandatory.
4. Bring in the physical space
- Sharing about your home environment can be a fun way to get to know each other better.
- Idea 1: Invite everyone to find something within arm’s reach and tell the rest of the team about it.
- Idea 2: Ask team members to give a tour of their workspace or favorite part of their home.
- Idea 3: If you all have pets, introduce them to the team.
5. Gratitude, appreciation, celebration
- Making a regular practice of sharing gratitude and celebrating successes can help keep teams motivated and build stronger connections between teammates.
- Idea 1: For one minute, ask the team to give one team member positive words of appreciation and recognition. You can use this spinning wheel to randomly choose a team member.
- Idea 2: Create a timebox to appreciate and celebrate successes from a sprint, meeting, event, etc. You could create a Miro board and ask team members to add stickies with positive messages.
Other useful check-in tools, lists, and templates:
- Our Scrum Alliance team loves this check-in generator. It allows you to choose from practical, creative, or reflective check-ins and generates questions with the click of a button.
- Miro Templates
- Miro offers a variety of well-designed and engaging icebreaker templates that inspire fun, creativity, and connection. Options include quick connectivities and longer, relationship-building check-ins.
- Questions to ask your teammates
- This creative list of 25 questions, from Certified Scrum Trainer Mike Cohn, includes non-standard check-in questions to help strengthen the bond between team members and make your meetings more enjoyable.