[ORGANIZER BEST PRACTICES] Ice breakers

Hi friendos!

I attended my first hackathon team building session over the weekend and thought I’d start a best practices thread on icebreaker exercises. There are many different types of icebreakers, some are used to energize a room of people, to connect people, for large groups and small.

@theycallmeswift tasked the room with three questions that immediately helped me get to know more people.

  1. What do you want to learn at the end of your time here?

  2. What brings you here?

and then at the end

  1. What’s the best thing you got out of the experience?

What icebreakers have worked for you? Especially when attempting to connect first time hackers?

Post your tried and true examples below!

I’ll start. While it’s not an exercise, here’s a simple name tag idea we used at my last company. All attendees would fill in their name/twitter handle and answer a simple question related to the event’s theme/topic. In this case the theme was “Freedom.” More here.

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Here are a few more of my favorite “turn-to-the-person-next-to-you-and-discuss-for-1-minute-then-swap” questions.

  1. Describe the neighborhood you grew up in.

  2. Share what brought you here today.

  3. Describe the first time you experienced the internet. (MLH staff used this one last week at lunch)

  4. Describe a job you would be terrible at.

  5. Share what you would make a documentary about if you had all the money in the world and 12 mos of free time.

  6. Share how you describe what a hackathon is to your family members who don’t know what a hackathon is.

  7. If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what rule would you make?

And here are 200 more questions to get to know someone.

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I haven’t been in that many memorable and therefore I might not know the best practices. But the good ice breakers I have been to allowed people to show some vulnerability. I think good questions could be

  • What was your most “its intern season” moment at work?
  • What do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
  • What the most embarrassing thing that you have done?

I think the questions are better suited for community building at a CS club or some meetup that has a smaller audience, and with people you will see again.

For hackathons specifically, I think hackNY 2018 had a great way to sort people by projects they wanted to do. If you wanted to do a funny hack, you went to one side of the room. If you wanted to do a Healthcare related hack, you went to the other side. This sorting method is pretty utilitarian, and doesn’t focus on community building.

I think using pre-events for hackathons, events/workshops prior to a hackathon with the goal of providing people time to “warm up” to the hackathon and intro them in to the tech community, would be a great place to run ice breakers. The pre-event is close to the hackathon, so its team building for the event. And you strengthen ties between the community.

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My go-to questions are always food related because anyone can relate! Some are:

  • What is your favorite ice cream story?
  • What is your favorite food story?
  • What was your favorite food experience and why?

I came up with these because I suck at pop-culture ice breakers, like what is your favorite TV show/movie or song related ones :grin:

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A collaborative exercise I really like is almost a mini-event!

It’s an effortless, spontaneous, creative and entertaining form of team work. The result is a spoken word performance, ha! Check it out.

It works for a room of at least 20 - 60 people.

great, would try a few next time

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Great maybe I will use some of these for my event if you don’t mind

For Stupid Hack (yes, it’s exactly what the name implies) we had team building that made you walk along a track that had diverging paths with really random questions like “Pineapple on pizza - yes/no” or “Tabs or spaces?” and then the teams were built depending on what you answered :smiley:

Then for some bonding exercises we had some obscure “Scrum tower building” thing that had you build a tower with your team and then we switched up the criterias on the fly e.g. first you build the tower on a desk, then you have to move it to the floor without breaking it etc.

Of course stuff like this mainly works for smaller events (Stupid Hack is limited to around 100 participants) and scaling it up could be a challenge

YAS, the ice cream story works like a charm haha

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AYEEEE that’s great to hear, haha!

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