[Update: Viv McWaters and “shifters,” from March 2011…]
When I tried to suggest that meetings didn’t need to be sage-on-the-stage leninist atrocities, I was told that icebreakers are “naff” and “corporate.”
Mr Defensive and Dismissive (DaD) has a point. “Ice-breakers” are. Tokenistic, patronising and meaningless, they are a facipulative (1) “activation phenomena.”
When done for corporate aims, they are a way of turning a massed audience into little snooker balls. The guy (or, more rarely, woman) with the cue can then collide balls into each other and put them in safe little pockets. It’s the games they play, and if has happened to you I am sure that you felt green with nausea.
That is not what I meant at all, at all. Obviously.
I want that massed audience … to turn into little seeds with burrs.
Not hard shiny spheres that bounce off each other with a clink, and then careen into another and another. No, I want them to be “hooking” onto each other, leaving traces and building links. So instead of the questions being pointless gimmicks “how far have you come?” “what’s your favourite colour?” or whatever is being used in snookerville these days, I was suggesting “what skills I have/lack” or “what is the most pressing need for the group I am part of” or “what does [the word representing cause x] mean to you...” that could then feed into discussions through the course of the day(s).
You’d hope that the difference between the two was a self-evident thing, especially when pretty clearly spelt out. It’s not.(2)
Axonal sprouting for the social brain, perhaps?
Possible names for this process
burr baby burr
(1) Facipulation – manipulative facilitation.
(2) I am slowly learning that – to my immense disappointment and their enormous dishonour – people who proclaim themselves for the liberation of women/the masses/etc are often the most snide, defensive and doctrinaire people you’d ever have the misfortune to meet. And their less snide and doctrinaire “comrades” seem happy for them to continue in that way. (There never seems to be any disavowal of gender-baiting, name-calling, anyhows.)
A few thoughts:
Icebreakers can become an unquestioned part of a meeting or workshop. They can be someone’s (usually someone a lot more extrovert than me) favourite game which they kindly want to share cos they enjoy it. Hmmm – this we need to question. Plenty of people have been embarrassed, or worse, by this kind of self-centred and thoughtless facilitation.
But I agree with Dwight – they can also be powerful beginnings to building a group, building a conversation, and we shouldn’t dismiss them because they’re sometimes misused/abused. I like the image of burrs as long as there’s no compulsion to hook on!
And since when do we abandon something that works just ‘cos the corporations nick it? The fact that some phone company or other stages a flashmob doesn’t mean that we should never use a flashmob again. The fact that they use a protest song to sell us crap doesn’t invalidate the song and so on.
you are absolutely right – ” as long as there’s no compulsion to hook on!” I should have said – and have been guilty in practice – of not saying “you are allowed to opt out of this. Whether it’s because your culture doesn’t “do” handshakes, or simply because you don’t feel like it at the moment [and in neither, or any other case, should you be forced to ‘justify’ your non-involvement].