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Best Icebreakers for Virtual Classroom Training

Updated: May 22, 2023

In recent years many companies have transitioned from in-person training to virtual classrooms, causing employee engagement levels to be in greater flux. One of the key factors behind this lack of engagement is a diminished sense of community.

As hybrids of working from the home and office continue, it’s more important than ever to look for ways to maximize your virtual training sessions and foster team building. Doing so can strengthen relationships and boost engagement by as much as 50%.

Fortunately, virtual training icebreakers are a great way for us to feel connected to people we can’t immediately meet in person. Not only are they effective to use at the introduction of a course, but they are also well-suited for use during scheduled training breaks. Implementing them during an intermission helps to keep people focused and engaged until everyone returns to their seat.

Tips to know before you start…

  • Consider the level of closeness between participants. Some icebreakers are designed for those who have worked together before, while others are not.

  • Be flexible. Icebreakers don't always go as planned, which is perfectly ok. So consider having an alternate question or activity in reserve that may be easier to answer.

  • Use virtual icebreakers sparingly.

  • Consider the size and job roles of your training audience. For large group sessions, break participants up into smaller groups to complete the icebreaker. For upper management participants, consider using icebreakers that help build leadership skills.

  • Keep activities brief to avoid wasting valuable time.

With these tips in mind, here are some virtual icebreaker and team-building activities to try with your learners.

Which City Are You in Without Telling Which City You Are in?

Level of effort required: Low

Level of team closeness required: Low

Best for: Distributed teams

Have each participant state a unique fact or description of the city/state/country they’re working from without using the actual name of the city/state/country. Let other participants guess using the chat window. This activity helps people get acquainted with their coworkers and learn interesting facts about where they’re from.

Why and How

Level of effort required: High

Level of team closeness required: Medium

Best for: Managers, supervisors and leaders

This exercise will help leaders define a common purpose and clarify cultural norms for their team. You can also use this activity to help leaders generate these from scratch or re-energize their existing team’s purpose and/or culture.

Purpose is the reason why a team exists. Why it was formed. Why it's needed in the organization.

Culture is how a team works together. How the job gets done, as well as the values, norms and behaviors that are expected.

Start by asking participants to reflect on these questions:

  • What is the job of my team?

  • What’s my team’s goal? How do we know when we’ve done our job?

  • What benefit are we bringing to the company and the broader world?

After a few minutes, have participants share their answers and gather feedback from the group. Once everyone has shared, ask each person to write down their version of their team's purpose.

Next, ask participants to write down as many words as they like that represent the best of their team's culture - these can be real or aspirational. Then, give them 1 minute to cross out half of their words. Do the same again, but this time they only get to keep the 3 most important words that describe their team's culture.

Finally, ask participants to explain their 3 words - defining what the cultural behavior looks like when it is being met, and what it looks like when it isn't. Once everyone has shared, ask each person to write down their version of their team's culture.

Suggest that leaders perform this same activity with their own team to further clarify the newly defined purpose and culture statements as a collective group.

This or that

Level of effort required: Low

Level of team closeness required: Low

Best for: Leaders, managers and supervisors

This lighthearted activity is perfect if you’re pressed for time. Simply throw out two options, and each participant chooses one and tells you why they chose it. Get more details if one of their answers surprised you. Ideally, leaders should incorporate both traits into their job performance to bring out the best from their teams.

  • Result-oriented or Like to have fun?

  • I make decisions for my team or Team collaboratively makes decisions

  • Regimented or Flexible?

  • Disciplined or Creative?

  • Leader or Coach?

  • Predictable or Innovative?

Hypothetical Question

Level of effort required: Medium

Level of team closeness required: Low

Best for: Small groups

Here's a list of fun and thought-provoking hypothetical questions for your participants to enjoy. Choose one or two, depending on the time allotted. The best thing about this is that there is no correct or incorrect answer.

  • If you could pick one adjective that best describes you, what would it be?

  • If you could select anyone to chauffeur you around for a week, who would it be?

  • If you could get a ticket to any show or event, what would you want a ticket to?

  • Would you rather be incredibly witty and outgoing, quiet and incredibly intelligent, or just stay the way you are now?

  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you visit and why?

The View from My Office

Level of effort required: Low

Level of team closeness required: Low

Best for: Any group, however it can be most interesting in a distributed team

Have everyone describe (or share a visual of) what it looks like from where they sit in their office. They can talk about/share the view from their window or simply show their desk setup.

Start, Stop, Continue

Level of effort required: Medium

Level of team closeness required: Medium or High

Best for: Smaller groups

This trust-building activity is for teams that have worked together for some time and are fairly familiar with one another. The aim is to generate feedback that fosters openness within the team and allows participants the opportunity to develop self-awareness. Ask participants to write down and complete the following statements for each individual in the group. They should reflect on each of the three prompts (Start, Stop, Continue), but they don't have to use all three if they can't think of relevant feedback.

  • Something I would like you to START doing is...

  • Something I would like you to STOP doing is...

  • Something I would like you to CONTINUE doing is...

Once everyone has completed the task, ask participants to share their feedback aloud with the other members in the group.

My Performance Pizza

Level of effort required: Low

Level of team closeness required: Low

Best for: Any group

This activity is designed to help participants reflect on the skills and attitudes they need in order to perform well at their job. Start by sharing an example of a My Performance Pizza (you can use one that demonstrates the most important skills and attitudes you need to master to be great a great trainer).

Explain this is a sample, and that participants should think about job traits from their own perspective.

Examples of traits:

  • Open

  • Respectful

  • Focused

  • Inquisitive

  • Creative

  • Team Player

  • Coach

  • Empathetic

  • Value Others

  • Helpful

  • Goal Oriented

  • Innovative

  • Driven

  • Collaborate

  • Inspire

  • Patient

Ask participants to write down their own set of important skills and attributes. Then, have them draw a pizza shape and label the slices with the items they listed. Once complete, have people share their drawings with the group and explain each slice. Ask participants to rate their performance on a scale of 1- 10 for each slice. (1 is a novice and 10 means fully proficient.)

This self-assessment should serve as a baseline for participants to set up their own personal goals for workplace development. Weaker areas should receive more focus in future.

Virtual Bingo

Level of effort required: Low

Level of team closeness required: Low

Best for: Any group

This activity ensures participants are paying attention and staying engaged throughout the entire training session. This will also help normalize the sometimes embarrassing things that happen and make participants feel more comfortable.

First, create bingo cards ahead of time listing common situations that happen during virtual training sessions. Here are some ideas to get you started (be sure to include things people can mark off right away):

  • See a pet in the background

  • Baby crying in the background

  • Dog barking in the background

  • See a person in the background

  • Phone rings in the background

  • Someone forgets to turn on/off mute

  • Someone loses connection

  • Someone drinks coffee

  • Someone is wearing a hat/glasses

  • Someone is wearing the company’s logo

  • Someone’s hairstyle has changed (if your group knows each other well enough)

Before the training session, send each employee their card and let them know you’ll explain what it’s for during class. When class starts, ask participants to have their bingo card ready. Explain that as the session goes on, they should mark off whenever a situation on their card happens. The first one to get five in a row types "BINGO" in the chat to win.

In Summary

Finally, think of activities that align with the course material to be discussed. For example, you can create a simple trivia game or “solve the scenario” based on the training topic and see what participants already know.

Remember, the goal of icebreaker activities is to make participants feel comfortable and willing to speak up so they get to know each other more. When you select ones specific to your training audience, this will help settle people's nerves, allowing everyone to build connections, exchange ideas and keep the conversation flowing.

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