Performance Management Blog

Thoughts on Purposeful Meeting Openers and Icebreakers

One of my LinkedIn groups had a post where the trainer wanted to start a class focused on “workplace improvement best practices,” asking for some kind of a meeting opener or icebreaker designed to make the supervisors frustrated because they could not get the exercise task done well in the allotted time. He was asking for ideas.

I suggested reminding them of their current workplace situation, since I thought that their workplace was like most others and that the managers were already frustrated with these same issues. (That makes good sense, right?)

My other comment was that the idea of getting people frustrated may not be the best way for starting a class session. Beginning a session, negatively, does not generally get people positively motivated in a class and the potential reactions can be somewhat uncontrollable. Some other people elaborated on some of the possible unintended outcomes of such an activity, too. (The conversation got pretty bloody but we also think we saved him from a huge strategic mistake, on which he agreed!!).

The other half of my thinking pounded on “irrelevant icebreakers” as a complete waste of time — you know, the goofy meeting openers that are not related to the issue or desired outcome of the session and play on people telling three truths and one lie about themselves or the most interesting thing about their hometown or stating something that no one would ever guess about them. (The list goes on and on…)

I’m in agreement with a lot of other consultant trainers, especially about all that psychology stuff and what happens in training. One psychologist posted up his approach of having people “draw a pig” that represents things in their organization. Some may find the reference to “pig” as being too close to senior management these days with all those raises and salaries of CEOs in excess of 300 times the workers and climbing!

But in that “psychology” frame, I use my Square Wheels® wagon illustration to get people to project their ideas like an organizational inkblot test. The cartoon shows a wooden wagon rolling along on Square Wheels while the cargo is round rubber tires. (There are some other aspects of motivation and vision and the like).

Square Wheels® are a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

The idea is to get individuals thinking and groups working together on sharing ideas about the illustration – brainstorming with an organizational behavioral anchor. Groups can also be motivated through a little competition to make a longer list (facilitation) and what players do is to project their beliefs about their own organization onto the illustration (the inkblot effect).

If you are going to take their valuable time, why not focus it on issues of innovation and teamwork and involvement about their workplace, and not some completely unrelated thing like 3 Truths and a Lie or some such “energizer.”

Using the cartoon as an anchor to the reality of how things really work, we get them talking about their issues — the things that do not work smoothly — and the ideas that already exist within the context of making the wagon move more effectively. This approach also allows discussion without the attack on management or structures. It has proven itself to be “developmentally neutral” and non-political in that regard.

The behavior and ideas and issues in play can then be linked to a lot of different kinds of content for your training session, and the activity thus made relevant.That is something that cannot be done with so many of the very general activities — it is hard to make the transition of doing them and then linking to a real business purpose. (Sure, you can use some words but the behaviors are generally off target.)

Best practices can be Round Wheels. The focus on the training and performance improvement might be linked to Square Wheels. You can coach people on identifying SWs and generating round ones, while generating dissociation and second-position perspective. Issues of change and implementation (stopping the wagon and changing the wheels) can be part of the “What are we going to try to do differently after we leave here?” discussion. And on and on.

You can find another article on this issue of effectively using trainee time and optimizing impact by clicking on this link:

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For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a 2-minute overview of the virtual team building game:

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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