Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nothing like an ice-breaker to bring a cold chill to the proceedings

What's the point of an ice-breaker on a training day? Yes, I know the answer is "to break the ice", but what is the point of the activity itself? The correct answer is, or should be, "There isn't one".

Ice-breaker activities should, ideally, be completely useless or, failing that, absolutely useful. The worst kind of ice-breaker, in my opinion, is one which seeks to pretend  to be useful, whilst being nothing of the kind.

You can spot such an activity a mile away: typically taking the form of a discussion, but in a gimmicky kind of way,it has something to do with the subject of the training, but it's a token gesture. Like the worst kind of starter activity in a school, it's designed to get people in the proper frame of mind for what's to come, but there is no right answer, and no opportunity to discuss people's answers.

That's bad enough in itself, because it can easily lead to misconceptions going unchallenged (see below for an example) and leave people feeling frustrated and wondering if the rest of the day is going to be more of the same. Perhaps worst of all, it doesn't even necessarily achieve its stated aim, of getting people to talk to each other: it is all too easy to let the self-elected spokesperson of the group say everything whilst yourself sitting back and saying nothing.

Here's an example of what I believe to be a misconception. One of the things decided by a group of teachers in an ice-breaker activity I facilitated was that personal presentation is one of the least important attributes an employee needs in the IT industry. I can see the logic of that in some respects, if you have an idea of the IT industry as comprising an army of geeky men who spend their entire lives in a room filled with servers, old mugs of coffee, and every surface covered in bits of copper wire and screwdrivers, and who emerge once a week to dispose of all the pizza delivery boxes and, if it's a full moon, have a wash.

But the real IT industry isn't like that, and even in the parts of it which have the potential to be like that, personal presentation is still important. And I think it is perfectly feasible to extend the concept of personal appearance to that of business appearance. Near my home there is a parade of shops, one of which is  a computer repair store. It looks, from the outside, like a junk shop. The windows are dirty, there are computers seemingly thrown around all over the place, half-opened boxes, everything in disarray.  Now, perhaps they are so busy that they don't have time to think about such things, but there is no way that I would venture into a shop that looks like I'll need a good bath when I come out of it. Apart from anything else, I'd be worried about dust getting into the innards of anything I brought in.

To me, therefore, presentation is highly  important. Now, I realise that that is a matter of opinion, but returning to the original theme of this post, any decent discussion activity would be allocated enough time to explore such issues rather than just leaving them.

A much better ice-breaker activity is to get people to introduce each other to the whole group, or to go around getting answers to half a dozen questions from each other. That sort of thing can raise the temperature a bit, both literally as well as figuratively.

Which only goes to show that an ice-breaker doesn't have to be cold in order to be cool!

Technorati tags: ,

No comments: