The Strauss Blog

Icebreakers for Boards – Improving the Effectiveness of Association Board Meetings

Have you attended meetings where you didn’t know anyone in the room? Perhaps you simply knew the name of the person sitting next to you. Maybe you’ve only ever heard someone’s voice over the phone. The question is, how do we learn more about the people with whom we work or serve?

On many accounts, I have attended meetings where I didn’t know anyone at my table. Other times, I may have known a person, but had never taken the time to connect with them and to understand how they felt about different issues.

How do you get people to connect in a meaningful way?

After doing a Google search of “ice breakers”, I found a site of the top 10 most valuable exercises at https://www.thebalance.com/top-ice-breakers-1918426. I have found several of them to be effective when it comes to connecting with new people.

For example, I attended a session this past summer with association leaders from across Canada. In the beginning, very few people knew each other, which made it awkward to sit at the tables waiting for the presenters to start. By introducing an icebreaker at that time, both attendees and presenters were able to interact with and get to know others in the room. Once the ice was broken, the presenters had a better idea of the crowd to which they were catering and the awkwardness quickly subsided.

The most common “getting to know you” exercise that I have seen involves breaking off into pairs and each pair presents their partner to the attendees. This icebreaker is effective, easy, and achieves two things; It lets everyone know who is in the room and it also encourages attendees to communicate, which helps to promote a more interactive session.

These presenters further expanded our interactive session by giving each table a problem to solve. This exercise, again, created and encouraged dialogue amongst attendees. The problem that was presented to us was simple: how much does a Boeing 747 weigh? We were given 15 minutes to discuss and present our answer. Each table approached the problem differently and made different assumptions. I liked this exercise because it gave everyone an idea as to how each person viewed and analyzed problems.

Now, by this time in our session, I had been told a little bit about each person in the room and I had a good understanding of the different ways that people thought and solved problems. I found that introducing both icebreaker exercises proved valuable in setting the stage for the rest of the day.

More recently, I attended a strategic planning day for one of the national associations that we manage as an association management company. Everyone in the room knew of the others but were not acquainted, and they were all from different parts of Canada. The facilitator started the session with the common “getting to know you” exercise. Members were split into pairs but were then instructed to pick out an image that was laying on the floor before we started talking to each other. There were images of landscapes, animals, people, buildings, etc. Once you had your photo you were asked to look at it and describe the photo based on who you are and how the photo describes your role as a board member in the association. It was a fascinating exercise since people naturally gravitated to photos that they liked, not knowing why they were picking the photo.

The photo that I chose was an image of the fall trees in full colour, and a river stream with rocks. I picked it because I like the outdoors and would have liked to have been outside that day, as it was a beautiful fall day. I found it easy to describe my role as the association’s Executive Director (ED) when looking at the photo that I chose. I described my role, as the guide of the organization/association, showing a way through the trees and finding a path. I saw the river stream as the direction the association is flowing and the rocks as the obstacles the association needed to overcome. As the ED, my role is to help the board avoid the “rocks”. I had to describe this to my partner who then needed to present my ideas to the entire group. My partner’s image was similar and I needed to present her explanation to the group. This exercise created a good start for the strategic planning day, as it allowed the board to reflect on their role in the organization and to appreciate the importance of each board member.

There are many exercises designed to connect people when attending sessions or board meetings. Without a doubt, many people would prefer to not go through these icebreakers and just sit back and absorb information, but I can appreciate the value of doing these exercises and would highly recommend incorporating them into meetings. Participating in icebreakers gives everyone insight into how their colleagues and fellow board members think, which can only guide an organization further in the right direction. Think about ways to better connect your board members so your meetings are more interactive and meaningful.