smart ice breakers

7 Smart Ice-Breaker Questions To Use At Work

Never underestimate the power of asking the right questions. The quality of the answers that follow can be a game-changer in the workplace (and in life!).

Icebreaker questions are a powerful tool to facilitate a more human workplace and foster a sense of interconnectivity across a team. By inspiring people to show up and share unique aspects of their identities, icebreakers prompt each individual to value one another beyond their job titles,” says Julia Armet, People & Culture consultant and founder and CEO of Higher Playbook. “When a team feels empowered to express themselves at work, they can develop a deeper appreciation toward each other’s contribution. Company culture is the natural byproduct.”

Different icebreaker questions work best in different settings so you can have conversations that lead to profound insights and drive transformative action. Here are a few smart icebreaker questions to use in different workplace contexts, according to Armet.

Icebreaker questions for work meetings

A high-quality icebreaker serves its purpose to open up space for conversation. It should directly lead into the subject matter for the workplace discussion and build lines of connection between ideas and people,” she says. For example, if a team is discussing the topic of workplace recognition, a smart icebreaker would be “What’s something you do every day that many on your team would never know?”

“The question prompts each contributor to bring to the table an aspect they want recognized and it leads powerfully into more conversation thereafter,” says Armet. “Another example: When a team is looking to rally to meet their quarterly goals, a great icebreaker to the workplace huddle is ‘What’s your inner pep talk sound like?’”

From there, contributors can inspire one another with motivational words and tactics that collectively elevate morale.

Icebreaker questions to address workplace conflict

But what about conversations that are less celebratory, like tense moments of conflict? There’s an icebreaker for that. Armet recommends asking the three following questions when team members are coming together to address conflict.

  • What do you think this conversation is really about?
  • What do you value most about resolving this conflict?
  • What’s possible on the other side of this conversation?

“These icebreaker questions serve the powerful purpose of releasing the conflict energy that is standing in the way of a productive resolution. They are designed to encourage each participant to be an observer, take personal responsibility for their needs, and express ownership of their true desires. As a result of the effective icebreaker, they can enter the conflict resolution from a place of higher consciousness,” she says.

Icebreaker questions for feedback sessions

You can even use smart icebreaker questions to facilitate constructive feedback sessions, which can be anxiety-inducing. “Whether you are giving or receiving feedback, you share a mutual aim of being receptive to the human being in front of you. Smart ice-breakers that promote transparency and trust set the stage for mutually constructive feedback conversations.”

Try the following prompts:

  • What feedback would you give yourself at this very moment?
  • What do you personally value about feedback?
  • What do you intend to use this feedback for?
  • How do you wish to be in this conversation?

According to Armet, it’s also important to give all parties involved in the feedback session an opportunity to answer to help “ground each person in their intention and level the playing field for discussion.”

Universal workplace icebreaker questions

“Icebreaker questions are essential to setting the energetic tone for every shared workspace: a coaching session, a group brainstorm, a team huddle, an all-hands, etc. Culture is created in every icebreaker question,” she adds. The following universal questions can be beneficial in almost any workplace context.

If you are facilitating a meeting and the energy of the room feels like everyone is ready to take a nap, ask “What gets you excited about being present today?”

If you are looking to brainstorm and inspire new ideas for discussion, prompt your coworkers by asking them, “What’s a question that interests you right now?”

If you want to foster a sense of connection in a room, whether you’re in a meeting or at a team-building event, say something along the lines of “What’s something unique you’re bringing to the table today?”

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