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Volunteerpower News October 2003


Volunteer Power News  October 2003
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter
2003 Advantage Point Systems, Inc. Publishing

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October Newsletter Content

This month:  Ice Breakers, Meetings Openers, and Team Building Activities

Several of you have asked, “Tom, why don’t you put all of your ice breakers together in one easy-to-navigate section so I can find what I am looking for.”  Great suggestion.

So we have added a new section on our website under resources entitled,--what else, “Ice Breakers, Meetings Openers, and Team Building Activities”.  We have 18 activities organized in three groups:  Ice breakers, Event and Meeting Planning Openers, and Team Building Activities. 

1.      Community Building Ice-breakers -- Getting to Know You
Eight door opening questions (i.e. "In high school . . .")
Two truths and a lie
My favorite ______
What do we have in common
Common traits (second version)
Hot seat

2.      Event and Meeting Planning Openers (Retreats, Strategic planning, Meetings)
"Our organization . . ." opener
The check in
Cultural analysis before a strategic planning retreat

3.      Team Building Activities
Developing team focus -- Stranded in the Desert
Building Interdependence

I have used all of them with great success.  You can copy them and use them:   http://www.volunteerpower.com/resources/icebreaker.asp

Before you use these activities, read the Four Deadly Sins of Leading Ice-Breakers.

The Four Deadly Sins of Leading Ice-Breakers
Thomas W. McKee

Not seven?  Sorry, I only have four common sins of using ice-breakers; however, if you avoid these four pitfalls you’ll be able set the pace for your volunteer event, focus your meeting, and build community.

Deadly Sin One:  Announce that you are going to play a game.

The worst thing a facilitator can do is to say, “To get started we are going to play a get-acquainted game.”  (Groans from everyone.)  Instead just start doing it. For example, if I am looking for an opener for my regular volunteer committee meeting of people who know each other very well, I sometimes use the Check In.   Have each person say, “I am _____ % here today.  The rest of me is ______.”   I have heard people say things like, “I’m only 60% here tonight.  My daughter has her first date and the guy is a jerk.”    Let each person talk about where their minds are.  As a leader you discover how big a job you have to get everyone focused on your meeting agenda, but you also discover what each of your team members are dealing with.

If I am facilitating a group of over 20 people who don’t know each other and are gathered for a training session or planning meeting, I will often say: "Hey, before we get started today I want everyone to find someone they don’t know and ask them these three questions on the screen.  In five minutes I’ll call on a few of you to introduce who you met.” 

Here are three questions I often use:
        Who are you?
        What do you do for fun?
        What is your expectation today?

Deadly Sin Two:  Expect community to just happen.

One of the most important roles of the volunteer leader is to build team community.  In my early years of leading volunteers, I was very nave, and I thought that community would just happen if we just spent time working together.  I was so wrong.  Fortunately, years ago I discovered that one way to build community is to use community-enhancing exercises.  I have used the following ice-breakers in two formats, meetings and board retreats.

A favorite of mine is the “When I was in high school . . .” ice-breaker.  I love this ice-breaker and use it all the time with various groups.  It is amazing how much we learn about each other.
Have everyone get in groups of about six (if your entire board or volunteer committee number ten or under, you can all stay in one group).  Have each one complete the sentence, “In high school you would most likely find me _________________.”     Some of the answers I have heard include the following:

On the stage
In the gym
On the track or football field
In the quad talking
In the library
In the bathroom smoking
In the dean’s office

The facilitator will ask follow-up questions to find out more about what each person did during their high school days. I remember learning that a very serious-minded engineer, with very short-trimmed hair, revealed to the group that when he was in high school he was a long-haired drummer for a rock band.  No one believed him so he brought pictures the next day.

Deadly Sin Three:  Use an ice-breaker just because everyone says to do it.

The ice breaker is not just an ice breaker.  It must have a purpose and it can be used effectively as an introduction to the purpose of the event.  The following icebreaker can be tailored to the meeting purpose, or the theme of the retreat, meeting or training session:  

Our organization can . . .

Write the words "agree," "disagree," "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree" on separate pieces of paper and post them on four different walls of the room. Then make a statement such as:
1.      Our organization can change the world.
2.      Our organization has a focused mission.
3.      Our organization is facing a major threat.
4.      Our organization is living in the past.
5.      Our organization stands on the threshold of opportunity.
6.      Our organization is alive and growing.

Have everybody move to the part of the room that matches their opinion. Have the group discuss why they chose their response.

Deadly Sin Four:  Let the ice-breaker go too long.

The 21st century volunteer is time pressed and will not respond to long, drawn out “huggy feely” ice breakers.  They want to get to the core of the meeting FAST.  The ice-breaker is not the event--it is the introduction.  If it is too long the serious work of the meeting will not be given enough time, though It should not be so short that participants feel it was a perfunctory exercise.  In some retreats I have used ice-breakers that last thirty minutes, but a one-hour meeting merits not more than five minutes.

Ice-breakers are tools to have participants reveal something personal about themselves, or which encourage participants to get to know each other personally.   They also provide the opportunity to have participants talk about their perspective on the discussion topic.  The idea is more than just having fun, the ice-breaker will truly help to create group understanding based on trust and understanding.



Is your organization part of a larger professional association, or a statewide, regional or national organization? Does that group have local, regional or national meetings and conferences? Would you like a Volunteer Power Session presented at one of those meetings?

Our fast paced 1.5-hour session is a stand-alone training designed to introduce staff, board and volunteers to a systematic model for building the volunteer team. Participants learn a practical, effective approach for dynamic volunteer teams.  

For more information, or to recommend an organization looking for such a program, please go to our Web Site at:

http://www.volunteerpower.com/ and fill out the form.


For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles Section on our website at:

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Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at http://www.volunteerpower.com.