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Team-Building: Introvert-Friendly Getting-To-Know-You Activities
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Team-Building: Introvert-Friendly Getting-To-Know-You Activities - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Introvert-Friendly Getting-To-Know-You Activities

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Introvert-Friendly Getting-To-Know-You Activities

They’re often called warm-ups, ice-breakers, minglers, or getting-to-know-you games. They’re intended to be shortcuts through the smalltalk and relationship-building, usually to energize participants in a meeting, workshop, or conference. The hope is that people will get excited about working with each other and amped-up about whatever the goal for the gathering might be. It’s sort of a team-building equivalent to speed dating.

The ice-breakers are well intentioned, and they work—for extroverts. As we are (thankfully!) becoming more and more aware, there is a meaningful number of introverts in any group, and many of the introverted are already very uncomfortable just attending the function. The extroverts will be on their feet and mingling with minimal encouragement. The introverts will either fake it or they will drag their feet to participate. Or they will suddenly need to excuse themselves to go to the restroom.

There is one mingler that actually has people wandering around in a defined space (sometimes muttering or shouting the word “mingle” repeatedly) until the facilitator shouts out a number. “Four!” he’ll exclaim, and participants milling about in the space will have to grab one another in groups of four, locking arms to indicate that they’ve formed their group. The facilitator will then ask a stimulating question, and participants will take turns sharing their responses to the others in their group. It’s not a bad concept—for extroverts. Introverts will either fake their way through the activity, count on being grabbed by over-enthusiastic extroverts, or wait until they’re among the leftovers, forming groups this way by virtue of not being grabby.

And then, to add agony to repulsion, the facilitator asks participants to break up and mingle again, waiting to shout the next number and ask the next provocative question.

These well-meaning facilitators may as well ask the introverts to let hissing cockroaches run around on their faces: this is how unpleasant these activities are for them. And the worst thing is that facilitators won’t even notice that they’re alienating themselves from the introverts in the room, because the introverts won’t say anything. Meanwhile, extroverts are participating eagerly and excitedly. Why wouldn’t they? This is how they recharge themselves. They do get amped up by these activities, but then they were getting amped up just by being in the room full of people.

As we have suggested before, it behooves any leader to consider activities that work for extroverts and introverts, otherwise they’re building camaraderie among only a portion of the group. And getting-to-know-you activities in large groups automatically don’t work for introverts. It then makes more sense to create an ice-breaker that lets participants engage at levels comfortable for their personalities.

Two warm-ups that work well this way are called Black & White and Four Corners. They’re alike in several ways, but depending on the purpose of the gathering, one will likely work better than the other.

In Black & White, a line is drawn down the center of the room. Masking tape works well for this, but you might consider chalk, a dry-erase marker, or even a piece of string. The facilitator asks participants to stand, explaining that there are two rules to this very easy activity: you may stand on either side of the line but you may not stand on the line, stand over the line, or straddle the line, and you must be on your feet for the duration of the activity unless this is physically challenging.

The facilitator explains that he or she will call out a dichotomy of ideas, things, people, places, or whatever, such as “movies or bowling.” Participants then stand on one side of the line to indicate preference for (or agreement with) the first item in the dichotomy, or they will stand on the other side to indicate preference for the second item in the dichotomy. So, for example, when the leader calls out “movies or bowling,” members of the crowd will move to the window side of the line to indicate preference for movies, while others will move to the wall side of the line to express a preference for bowling.

Now the facilitator suggests an optional response: in addition to choosing a side, participants may (if they wish) indicate how strongly they feel about this topic and the forthcoming topics by standing near the line or far away from the line. He or she might also suggest each participant look around at who’s standing where and make a mental note of surprising responses.

The facilitator then calls out the next dichotomy, perhaps “hamburgers or hot dogs.” Participants respond by staying where they are or switching to the other side of the line. As they get more into it, the dichotomies grow more abstract, more relevant to the day’s topic, or more provocative.

Extroverts will already be conversing with each other as they participate (they can’t help it!). Introverts will still express themselves, will still see how others feel, but won’t feel the pressure to engage directly with others in the room. This activity allows for interpersonal connection at the level people feel comfortable with. It also get ideas flowing toward the day’s topic. As long as the activity doesn’t stretch too long, it will nearly always be a winner.

Four corners is a variant of Black & White, but with sets of four ideas rather than two. So the first set might be “movies, bowling, hiking, or napping,” with respondents moving to corner of the room corresponding with their preference. For this activity, the facilitator might tell participants to look around the room and mentally choose the person they think they’ll have nothing in common with, and to keep an eye on that person throughout the activity. The numbers almost dictate that everyone will be in agreement with everyone else at least once, and people may find it surprising to see how much they agree with each other.

Other prompts might be “Star Wars, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Sound of Music, and Steel Magnolias,” “Texas, California, New York, and Florida,” “Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Green” (but be careful), “a little more gun control, a lot more gun control, a little less gun control, and a lot less gun control,” and a few items relevant to the participants’ fields.

In both of these activities, there’s often a very short warm-up period while participants get to understand how to play, usually about three questions into the game. Also in both, enthusiasm wanes rather quickly. More of them may be sticking closer to the line because they just don’t want to move around anymore. Keep your finger on the pulse of enthusiasm, and get to the good stuff more quickly if the group is flagging. And definitely end well before everyone has had enough.
These activities are just a start, but they are a very good start. Other often successful ideas are based on the idea of private responses which then may become public. For example, very short responses to prompts written on sticky notes. Then sticky notes stuck to the wall, where volunteers (read: extroverts) are tasked with grouping the responses in categories. The extroverts will negotiate with each other, discuss grouping, and generally have a great time, while the introverts will participate passively by observing. The idea is to allow room for both kinds of responses, and facilitators may find themselves with the whole room on their side before they even begin, rather than just the half that likes to grab people.


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Team-Building: Introvert-Friendly Getting-To-Know-You Activities - Executive Leadership Articles

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