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Leadership in the Workplace

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exercise no. 3: boosting one's self

Icebreakers, Warm-up, Review, and Motivator Activities

For the following activities, it often helps to break the group into couples or trios. The smaller groups allow for more discussion, keeps participants from mentally wondering off, builds rapport, and allows for "one-on-one" relationships.

You can also break a large group into small groups by having them discuss the activity with the person behind them, or having people take a different seat when they return from breaks or activities. The idea is to get them to meet and learn about other people besides their friends or favorite partner.


Icebreakers are structured activities that are designed to relax learners, introduce them to each other, and energize them in what is normally an unduly formal atmosphere or situation. Icebreakers are not normally related to the subject matter, where as "openers" are related to the subject matter that is to be discussed. In addition, they often help to break up the cliques and invite people to form random groupings in a non-threatening and fun way.

The term "icebreaker" comes from "break the ice", which in turn comes from special ships called "icebreakers" that are designed to break up ice in the arctic regions. And just as these ships make it easier for other ships to travel, an icebreaker helps to clear the way for learning to occur by making the learners more comfortable by helping to bring about conversation.

Listed below are a few icebreakers to help get you started.

The Magic Wand

You have just found a magic wand that allows you to change three work related activities. You can change anything you want. How would you change yourself, your job, your boss, coworkers, an important project, etc.? Have them discuss why it is important to make the change. Another variation is to have them discuss what they would change if they become the boss for a month. This activity helps them to learn about others' desires and frustrations.


You are marooned on a island. What five (you can use a different number, such as seven, depending upon the size of each team) items would you have brought with you if you knew there was a chance that you might be stranded. Note that they are only allowed five items per team, not per person. You can have them write their items on a flip chart and discuss and defend their choices with the whole group. This activity helps them to learn about other's values and problem solving styles and promotes teamwork.

The Interview

Break the group into two-person teams (have them pick a partner that they know the least about). Have them interview each other for about twenty minutes (You can also prepare questions ahead of time or provide general guidelines for the interview). They need to learn about what each other likes about their job, past jobs, family life, hobbies, favorite sport, etc. After the interviews, reassemble the group and have each team introduce their team member to the group. This exercise helps them to learn about each other.

Who Done That?

Prior to the meeting, make a list of about 25 items relating to work and home life. For example, a list for a group of trainers might have some of the following:
  • Developed a computer training course
  • Has delivered coaching classes
  • Is a mother
  • Knows what ADDIE means and can readily discuss it
  • Enjoys hiking
  • Has performed process improvement
  • Served in the Armed Forces
  • Is a task analysis expert
Ensure there is plenty of space below each item (3 or 4 lines) and then make enough copies for each person.

Give each person a copy of the list and have them find someone who can sign one of the lines. Also, have them put their job title and phone number next to their names. Allow about 30 minutes for the activity. Give prizes for the first one completed, most names (you can have more that one name next to an item), last one completed, etc. This activity provides participants with a list of special project coaches and helps them to learn about each other.

The ADDIE Game (Analysis, Design, Development, Implement, Evaluate)

Make up a reasonable problem scenario for your organization where people need to get introduced, e.g. "The manufacturing department is bringing in 20 temporaries to help with the peak season. They want us to build a short activity that will allow the permanent employees to meet and introduce themselves to the temporaries." Break the group into small teams. Have them to discuss and create a solution:
  • Analyze the problem - Is it a training problem? If they decide that it is not a training problem, then remind them that most problems can be solved by following an ADDIE type approach.
  • Perform a short task analysis - How do people get to know each other?
  • Design the activity - Develop objectives, sequence.
  • Develop the activity - Outline how they will perform the activity and trial it.
  • Implement - Have each small team in turn, introduce themselves in front of the group using the activity they created.
  • Evaluate - Give prizes to the most original, funniest, etc. by having the group vote.
This activity allows them to learn about each other's problem solving styles and instructional development methods, it also introduces the members to each other. This method can also be used to introduce the ADDIE method to new trainers. Time - about 60 minutes.

Finish the Sentence

Go around the room and have each person complete one of these sentences (or something similar):
  • The best job I ever had was...
  • The worst project I ever worked on was...
  • The riskiest thing I ever did was...
This is a good technique for moving on to a new topic or subject. For example, when starting a class and you want everyone to introduce themselves, you can have them complete "I am in this class because..."

You can also move on to a new subject by asking a leading question. For example if you are instructing time management, "The one time I felt most stressed because I did not have enough time was ..."


While icebreakers are used to start a learning session, reviews are used in the closing of a session or module. They help to reinforce key concepts or topics.

Frame Game

Give each learner four blank cards and instruct them to fill in four different responses on the subject: "What were main concepts or learning points of the material we just covered?" Give them about five minutes to complete the exercise, then collect the cards, shuffle them, and randomly deal three cards to each learner. (Note: If desired, the trainer can make up four cards of her own, but they should be philosophically unacceptable with the principles presented. That is, play devil's advocate.)

Ask everyone to read the cards they just received, and then to arrange them in order of personal preference.

Place the extra cards on the table and allow them to replace the cards in their hand that they do not like. Next, ask them to exchange cards with each other. They must exchange at least one card.

After about three minutes, form them into teams and ask each team to select the three cards they like the best. Give them time to choose, then have them create a graphic poster to reflect the final three cards.

Select or vote on best poster that best represents the topic.

Rearrange the Classroom (Change)

Prior to class, set the desks up in the old "traditional" classroom row style. Except, that you should set your stage (podium, flip chart, etc.) in the back of the class. Start your presentation (you will be behind them, facing their backs). Explain to them that this is how a lot of change is implemented in organizations. The leaders get behind their employees and attempt to "push" them into change. And the attempt to change is about as successful as trying to conduct a class this way. Note: for another change activity, see Push and Pull Change.

Also, point out that this is how a lot of traditional organizations are set up, in nice even rows (departments), where it is hard to communicate and learn from each other. But, real teams develop when we break out of our boxes and design organizations that have cross functional teams working with each other. Ask them to rearrange the room so that real learning, communication, and teamwork can take place. Depending upon your learners, you might have to give them a few pointers to get started, but then get out of the way.

During the next break or after lunch, have them rearrange the room again, using some of the techniques that they learned. This can be repeated several more times, depending upon the length of the presentation. But, each time they change the setting, it needs to reinforce a concept that they previously learned.

Toy Story

Using Legos, Tinker Toys, clay, log cabins, etc., have each person or small group build a model of the main concept that they have just been presented. After a given time period, have each person or team present their model to the group. They should describe how their model relates to their work or the subject being taught.

Encourage creativity!


This is a semi-review and wake-up exercise when covering material that requires heavy concentration. Have everyone stand up and form a resemblance of a circle. It does not have to be perfect, but they should all be facing in, looking at each other. Toss a nerf ball or bean bag to a person and have tell what they thought was the most important learning concept was. They then toss the ball to someone and that person explains what they though was the most important concept. Continue the exercise until everyone has caught the ball at least once and explained an important concept of the material just covered.

Process Ball

This is similar to the above exercise, but each person tells one step of a process or concept when the ball is tossed to them. The instructor or learner, in turn, writes it on a chalkboard or flip chart. For example, after covering "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs," you would start the ball toss by having everyone give one step in the pyramid of needs, e.g. Safety, Physiological, Esteem, etc.


Motivators are designed to help encourage the learners.

Positive Reinforcement Cards

Whenever a learner arrives to class on time from breaks, lunch, etc. give them one playing card. You can also hand out cards to people who volunteer for activities, are helpful, answers a difficult question, etc. At the end of the day, play one hand of poker. However, the only cards that are used are the ones that were given out throughout the day. Give a small prize to the best hand (you can also pick the top two or three hands if you are able to give away more prizes). Note that the more cards a person has, the better the chance of winning.

Calm Down!

Sometimes the problem is not warming up, but the need to calm or "come down to reality" after a session of intensive material is given. Also, to get the full benefit of new material, some "introspective time" might be needed.

Have the learners lay their heads on their desks, lay on the floor, or get in a comfortable position. Then, have them reflect on what they have just learned. After about five minutes, say a key word or short phase and have them reflect on it for a couple of minutes. Repeat one or two more times then gather the group into a circle and have them share what they believe is the most important points of the concept and how they can best use it at their place of work.

Note: This may seem like slack time to many, but reflection is one of the most powerful learning techniques available! Use it!