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Time for Team (re) building? Here's some advice for selecting Icebreakers…

Time for Team (re) building?  Here's some advice for selecting Icebreakers…

Just about every work conversation I have at the moment involves people from the L+D community anticipating a return to face-to-face or hybrid (face to face and on-line) delivery of learning. As I said in last month’s blog I’m counseling an approach which makes no assumptions about how employees and colleagues will be when they return - there’s been a lot of time for individuals to change while we’ve been apart. What this means is that the structure and content of our programming needs to score highly in two key areas - flexibility and early engagement.

So how do we deliver in those two key areas?

Flexibility is perhaps the easiest to achieve - what you’re aiming for is somewhat ‘looser’ yet more comprehensive programming.
Here’s where you might start to build that:

  1. Try to anticipate how you might experience your learners when they return to learning. To do this I’ve suggested a brain dump (with colleagues?) that starts “They could…” Write these down e.g.
  • They could find it hard to focus
  • They could be full of energy
  • They could have shorter attention spans
  1. Against each of these think how your content and programming could respond in a way that increases its effectiveness. e.g.
  • Increase the number of opportunities for learner contribution
  • Choose different break-out groupings to increase social-mixing.
  • Build in short periods of reflection
  1. Use these responses to build programme modules that can be quickly chosen and integrated into loosely structured programmes that are able to respond to specific groups of learners.

Going through this exercise with L+D professionals it’s clear that the programmes that emerge are built around short modules with a lot of variety in content and delivery style. If your programmes don’t look like that then recognise that you may find it hard to adapt to differences in learner receptivity.

The second key area we’ve identified is early engagement.

It’s virtually impossible to anticipate the range of learner attitude you’ll encounter when you resume full delivery schedules. After a year+ of disrupted working and life outside of work, employees could be disaffected, elated to be back, cynical, sceptical, highly motivated - or any volatile combination of these states. It’s almost certain that across the employee groups you encounter, (face to face, online or a combination of the two), there will be a wider than usual range of feelings about being part of your programme. It’s vital that the first minutes of your delivery are inviting, professional and impactful.

Across the world I can hear readers muttering one word to themselves at this point - ‘Icebreaker’, and, indeed, we need a really strong opening to your programme, so, after your introductions and housekeeping, what’s going to start your programme?

At RSVP Design we’ve always been pretty clear about how we select our first activities - and it’s exactly the same as how we choose every other activity in a programme. We look at the learning objectives and select every activity to deliver one or more of them. What we don’t do is to tell ourselves that our learners need ‘something fun to warm them up and it doesn’t really matter what that is as long as it get’s people smiling’. In our book that wastes valuable programme time and risks devaluing the whole programme. Our first activity might indeed be fun, it might get people smiling, it will certainly get people engaged, but at the end of it we’ll have something to review that will contribute to participant learning.

In the face-to-face world we might choose activities such as these to match specific learning outcomes:

If we want people to connect on a deeper level as they don't know each other well yet, we might consider using the card deck Getting Acquainted.

If we want to make people conscious of how they learn, and how group based learning impacts this, we might choose Challenging Assumptions.

If we want learners to share their awareness of, and attitudes to, the workplace issues that drive the programme we might choose an image-based activity such as our Images of Organisations or Images of Resilience.

If we want to stimulate creative thinking and co-operation then Seeing the Point might be a good choice. Alternatively we might choose to develop the creative-thinking theme with a round of Mystery Object, leaving the possibility of returning for another round later in our programme to check whether learners can implement the programme content.

In an online or hybrid programme we can still use our different image decks and Seeing the Point as these are fully functional and ready for use on RSVP Design’s online experiential learning platform, along with all our other tools developed for remote learning. If communicating well as an hybrid team, or having a rehearsal at low-risk problem solving are important to the group, then we would consider using physical and digital versions of Colourblind Plus and Colourblind Plus (online version), or Workstations and Online Workstations,

However we choose to open our programme, we need to be constantly monitoring learner reactions, and be prepared to take remedial action if we don’t get the reaction we expect. It’s going to take everybody a while to get back to some level of stability in relation to workplace learning, so don’t get trapped by your own timetable - be positive and be flexible.

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