Five Tips on How to Break-The-Ice With a Little Humor

Colleagues gathered around a meeting table

At this year’s annual HR Transform conference that took place in Las Vegas, Sparrow kicked it off with a session on breaking down communication barriers using improv and humor, hosted by Shannan Calcutt and Darren Pitura, professional comedians, performers, and teachers from Las Vegas. After all, it’s been 2+ years since many of us have been to an in-person event and what better way to get reacquainted with meeting people than with a session on how to break-the-ice! While many of us were still apprehensive to be interacting face-to-face with people outside of our family and close friends, after these five ice-breakers, we were ready to jump into this conference and engage in conversations on impactful topics that are transforming the HR space.


2022 - HR Transform


Here are a few pointers we learned:

1. Say “Yes” to “dumb” ideas

Let your team know you have their back by saying yes to their “dumb” ideas, as Shannan and Darren stated throughout the workshop. Literally shout it out: “Darren, I’m going to say yes to your dumb idea.” “Thank you, Shannan, and I’m going to say yes to your dumb idea.” Imagine saying this to a complete stranger. Well that is what we did. It immediately had an impact on the energy where everyone felt much safer to be around one another and be silly. Having this mindset can also guide psychological safety into the workplace, where people feel comfortable being who they are — where mistakes are ok, and you’re not being hindered by a fear of them.

2. Cheer your team on, even when you lose

Have you ever lost in a game of rochambeau (aka rock, paper, scissors) because their paper beat your rock, and then turned around and cheered your opponent on their next game, until finally, there’s one very loud group celebration for the one winner at the end. This ice breaker can drive an understanding that despite having faced many losses along the way, cheering your team all the way to the end drives team success. Wouldn’t this be a great feeling to have on every team, or better yet, if the entire company felt unified as one and on track to achieve the same goal? You’d be an unstoppable force. Bouncing back after a loss to cheer on your colleagues builds resilience and shows strength, but building resilience takes proactive efforts and coaching of your leaders to ensure everyone’s prepared.

3. Foster supportive environments

Imagine standing in the middle of a group of 10 people you don’t know, next to another person you don’t know, and both of your bodies were each bent in the shape of the first letter of your name. Basically, looking as ridiculous as possible and then doing improv — completely on the fly — until someone from the outer circle says “FREEZE” and jumps in to save you. Breaking the ice in this way can foster a supportive environment where no one judges one another and instead, lends a helping hand whether it’s needed or not. Simply knowing someone has your back can build that much needed trust. In a workplace setting, a supportive work environment promotes good physical and mental health for your employees, a top of mind initiative around the world.

4. Respond with “Yes and…”

Brainstorming can be tough when you’re doing it alone, but when you’re doing it with someone else and each of you respond with “Yes and…”, you can build something very special. Here’s an example:

Person A: “Hi friend, I found a stick in my yard…

Person B: “Yes, and it appears to be a magical wand…”

Person A: “Yes, and look, I just turned you into a snowman…”

Person B: “Yes, and I’m going to run into that cave over there because it’s sunny outside and I don’t want to melt…”

As an HR leader, imagine trying to figure out how to improve the employee experience all by yourself. It would not only be incredibly challenging, but it may also be one-sided. If you’re building an engagement survey on your own, how can you ensure inclusivity if all the questions are based on one person’s viewpoint? Taking the ideas of others on your team, or even outside of your team, can help you build the most creative and inclusive experiences employees will find meaningful.

5. Listen actively

For this ice-breaker, give your partner an imaginary gift, and while they’re thanking you for the gift, they’re also describing what it is, using their imagination, (i.e, “thank you for this lovely guitar!”). You follow up with “You’re welcome” and then the reason you got it for them, “I remember you saying you wanted to learn to play the guitar.” This forces active listening on both sides, where you would not be able to complete the exercise if you weren’t listening to one another. And of course, it invites everyone to be imaginative and introduces a little silliness into our conversations that are often quite serious. Understanding active listening can be incredibly helpful when breaking down communication barriers, and using humor is a great way to begin that understanding.

What was once a room filled with apprehensive people, was now a safe place to be innovative, fun and silly. Countless articles have been written on how having a good sense of humor at work can go a very long way professionally and may be the trick to achieving success. As in-person interactions continue to make their way back, these fun and humorous ice-breakers can help you engage creatively so that you are getting the most from your interactions. Use these tips in a professional setting and in your day-to-day life, and you and those around will have a very special experience.

Looking to improve the experience when your people go on employee leave? Break-the-ice with us on a demo today.