My Best One Word Icebreaker

My Favorite Simple Opener for Meetings and Training Classes

Diverse coworkers in a meeting and laughing
Ice Breakers Help People Warm Up to Each Other. Buero Monaco/Taxi?Getty Images

Need a quick, no preparation icebreaker that works like a charm to break the ice in a meeting or training session? Highly adaptable, this icebreaker leads the participants right into the content of your meeting or training class. Here, see my one-word icebreaker and my suggestions about how to endlessly adapt this icebreaker to your participants' needs.

One Word Icebreaker Steps

  1. Divide the meeting participants into groups of four or five people by having them number off. (You do this so that your participants get to know fellow attendees. People generally begin a meeting by sitting with the people they already know best, when your goal is normally team building across a group.)
  1. Tell the newly formed groups that their assignment is to think for a minute and then to share with their group the one word that describes X. In my first venture with this icebreaker, I was leading a session on organizational culture. So, my request of the group was that they think about their current culture and come up with one word to describe it.

    This ice breaker helps the group explore their thoughts on a common issue. This icebreaker is a perfect segue into the topic of the meeting or training class. The group was fascinated by the variety of the words chosen.

    Consequently, the icebreaker did provide a snapshot into the current thinking of the group about their culture. (The group's one-word culture descriptions ranged broadly: funky, family, fun, bipolar, fractured, cohesive, inspiring, and motivational are samples of their chosen words.)
  2. This icebreaker sparked spontaneous conversation in every group as the participants questioned each other about the meaning of their one word. They asked for examples and found that the combination of the participants' chosen words did describe their current organizational culture.
  1. Upon completion of the initial spontaneous discussion, ask the participants to share their one word with the larger group. Ask for a volunteer to start and then, ask each participant to share their one word that described their culture. (Even your most quiet members were comfortable sharing their word.)
  1. Next, after the participants have listened to the variety of words from the larger group, ask them to explore several questions in their small group. In this instance, asking each participant to select one word to describe their organizational culture, I then asked these follow-up questions.

    --Is this culture consistent across buildings and departments?

    --Is this the culture that you want to have in your organization? Does this culture support the accomplishment of the environment you desire for employees and the achievement of your company goals?

    Your opportunity for follow-up questions is endless. These debriefing questions can support the content of your training class or meeting.
  2. Debrief the icebreaker by asking for a volunteer from each group to share a point or two that highlighted their discussion. (I noticed that many session attendees took notes.)
  3. Because participants are almost always your best source for laughter and fun, each of these steps generated remarks, insights, ah-has, and examples.
  4. Upon completion, move into the rest of the material you have prepared for the session.

This one-word icebreaker takes 10 – 15 minutes with the initial enthusiastic, unstructured discussion that the icebreaker generates.

Total time will depend on the number of additional questions that you ask the group to discuss as part of the debrief of the one-word icebreaker.

More Applications of the One Word Icebreaker

While I developed the one-word icebreaker for the above-described session about organizational culture, the applications of the one-word icebreaker are limited only by your imagination. Here are a few ideas for adapting the one-word icebreaker to your needs.

  • Session about teams: what is one word that you would use to describe your team?
  • Session about communication: what is one word that you would use to describe the effectiveness of your communication?
  • Regular weekly meeting: what is one word that you would use io describe how work is going for you this week? Or, in one word, describe your most significant challenge this week.
  • Managing up session: in one word, how would you describe your relationship with your boss?
  • Session about empowering employees: what comes to your mind first when you think about empowering employees?
  • A class about performance management: what is one word that describes your current employee appraisals?

More About Using Icebreakers