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Probing icebreaker questions

Instead of a traditional icebreaker, many trainers like to start their session with a stimulating question to break the ice, foster introductions, help participants get to know each other, and reduce tension.  Favorite questions include:

Questions about you

  • Tell us something your colleagues do not know about you.
  • Who has been your best coach in their past and why?
  • What would you do if you won the lottery? (I often offer my answer first to engender trust. I learn what motivates each person as well. Where they know each other, and I do not know them
  • “What was a dream you had as a child?” (great for a visioning/goal setting workshop).
  • Share a memorable moment of your life.
  • What was your favorite hobby or pastime as a child?
  • Introduce yourself simply with your name and an adjective that describes you.  The adjective must start with the same letter as your first name!
  • When you introduce yourself, tell us the best part of their job, the most difficult part of their job (if there is one), and what topic they are interested in learning more about after reviewing the table of contents.
  • What does family mean to you?
  • What are you most proud of in your life?
  • What’s your claim to fame?

Questions about workshop goals

  • Tell me why you are here (even if it’s because your boss told you to) and what your objectives are. I write it down on an easel pad and post it for the day, and review with the group as we go.
  • Have small groups work on one of these questions:
    • What are your biggest challenges related to________ in 2011?
    • What are the key things you wish to do better related to__________?
    • What drives you crazy related to________________?
  • Using Peter Block’s “Four Powerful Questions” (Flawless Consulting Skills, 2nd Edition, pages 283-286) ask:  “On a scale of 1-7, with 7 as high answer,

1. How valuable do you plan this workshop to be?
2. How participative do you plan to be?
3. How much risk do you plan to take?
4. To what extent do you plan to be invested in the learning and well being of the whole group?  NOTE: ask about their plans (action word) and NOT their expectations (a prediction), to shift accountability and ownership to everyone present.

    • Ask this TRIO of questions:

1. What specifically do you want to take away from this workshop?
2. How will you achieve this?
3. How will you know when you have achieved this?
Finally, imagine yourself applying the new behaviors in the workplace.

Sharing and debriefing participant objectives

After you’ve asked the questions and given your group time to consider them, have participants go through the objectives they have identified as a group and pick their top 2 or 3. Then ask for a show of hands on how many choose each objective. Explain to the group that you will use this as a tool to tailor the content to the class, focusing more time and energy on the objectives people really want.


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