Performance Management Blog

Motivation, Training and Icebreakers. Keeping It Real!
Muscle Building and the impacts of training on the Square Wheels wagon journey

Opportunities to increase motivation abound in every organization. So many things one can do to improve intrinsic reward systems and improve performance feedback. Discussing training and development with a couple of people, the conversation moved toward making training fun, and it triggered my responding that training should be fun, but that training is NOT just fun. Companies are paying a lot of money for learning, to a degree, but more for results and impacts and behavior change.

Training should be fun, but not JUST fun. That is not Training!

So often, line managers see training as a waste of time, their time and the time of their people, at least insofar as how some trainers and training departments run programs. And many of these “icebreakers” are really a waste of this valuable time. The issue of Value of Time as viewed by managers is often ignored by trainers; the cost of time seems to often be an irrelevant value to the training department.

In my stint as Senior Vice President of Operations at a retail firm many years ago, I was really really selective in terms of what actual training we provided as what coaching we might have our store managers give to their teams.  We tried to keep things simple and minimize the costs of training and time. And this after I had been involved in OD kinds of things for years!

Sure, learning is a good thing and Learning to Learn is a requirement for any kind of future success since everything keeps changing and learning demands are continuous. Heck, I have trouble keeping up with changes made to my cell phone and computer operating systems these days, along with all the gee-gaws in my (then) new Hyundai Genesis. And “Voice Control?” Maybe later… (although it does seem like “Navigation Guidance Off” is the only way I can get the GPS to stop talking and stop tracking). Two years later, I still do not use VOICE control in the Genesis or Siri on my iPhone. But I digress…

We all need to insure that the training we are offering IS related to improving performance or quality and we need to insure that ALL of the time spent within those training programs is pragmatic and impactful.

Fun. I think of it more like involving and engaging people in the learning activity seen by them as directly related to their performance improvement issues and opportunities. I think the fun should be directly linked to the session’s overall desired outcomes and that time spent in activities needs tight anchoring to organizational issues.

So, then I get to Icebreakers, as popularly defined and described in the training literature. I captured some names of sessions. You judge whether these sound as though they would meet the professional view of close linking to organizational issues and if they would fit to comfortably use with Most Senior Executives of a multi-national company:

  • Amoeba
  • Autograph Bingo
  • Banana Pass
  • Bigger and Better
  • Big Wind Blows
  • Blanket Name Game
  • Bowl Game
  • Capture the Flag
  • Celebrity Game
  • Commonalities and Uniquities
  • Couch Game
  • Dragon Tag
  • Ghost in the Graveyard
  • Giants, Wizards, Elves
  • Hodgy Podgy
  • Hot Seat
  • Human Knot
  • Human Sculptures Game
  • ID Guessing Game
  • Kemps
  • Killer Wink

and the list goes on and on and on. And some trainers think that these are really useful in “warming up” people for learning. And then we have some like these:

  • Sticky Beak  –  With a small roll of masking tape sitting on the end of their noses, individuals attempt to ‘steal’ other people’s tape by gently pushing against the latter’s nose.
  • Jump In Jump Out – Holding hands in a circle, facing the centre, a group jumps in, out, left or right of the circle in synch with their leader’s instructions.
  • Elevator Air – People cross to the other side of the circle in which they are standing in the manner of various ‘mind-states.’
  • The Mintie Game – Starting with 10 treats each, people aim to earn more treats by causing as many people as possible to say the word “YES” in their ensuing conversations.


If you were the operations manager and a trainer sat down with you to talk about the actual training program agenda and started by saying that they would first spend 20 minutes doing Sticky Beak as a warm-up, wouldn’t you lose the momentum to do this program immediately? (“Let’s see: 20 minutes x 20 people is 400 minutes or 7 hours of productive work time that is spent doing what???” “Killer Wink is going to help me HOW?”)

I have written about Purposeful Meeting Openers in a previous post on the blog that shares some thoughts about using that time productively. But, for the most part, I just do not understand why these stupid things are so popular with professional trainers.  And I remember running for the door when, at a conference in Singapore, the organizers wanted 200+ people to stand around the outside of the room, hold hands, and sing some sappy song. (I was g-o-n-e and I came late the next day!)

Apologies if I offend anyone who has invented one of these listed icebreakers and they are probably fun for some. But I cannot imagine sitting with the CEO of a Multi-National Corporation and the leadership team and saying, “Okay, to start off the session and loosen everyone up, we are going to do The Sticky Beak Exercise so everyone take a piece of masking tape and put it on the end of your nose…” (I mean, really?)

Me, I am going to continue to use my Square Wheels One illustration as a tool for getting people to start working together and talking about the things they see in the illustration and projecting those ideas about how their workplace operates into the tabletop discussion. Why? Because Square Wheels work extremely well as a problem-solving-based icebreaker to align people to THEIR performance improvement opportunities. I have written a LOT about this in the 700 or so blog article in here…

Keeping it real, I think, so let’s get it together.


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.

You can reach Scott at


Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company



Dr. Scott Simmerman

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, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- 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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