I do love questions! (Thanks for asking Aman.) I'm ready to dive in. Using the resources I have on hand, the books on my shelf (referencing some support), here's what I understand (and follow when programming) when it comes to ice-breakers, de-inhibitizers, and energizers.
The earliest source I have related to adventure-based programming is the Project Adventure book, Islands of Healing: A Guide to Adventure-Based Counseling (1988), by Schoel, Peouty & Radcliffe.
When Project Adventure started training educators (late 1970s early 80s) on the use of adventure-based activities they promoted the following categories, suggesting activities be done from these categories (in a progression) in this order:
As we can see, ice breakers and de-inhibitizers are on the list - energizers did not get a listing at that time. We can also see ice breakers and de-inhibitizers were done at the onset of a program/progression - done to bring the group together in a 'comfortable' (comfort zone) way and progress into simple challenges (e.g., being silly) and risks (e.g., talking to others) so they could eventually step out of their comfort zones in order to learn and grow. So, lets break down Aman's question. (The other categories we can explore in another post.)
From Islands of Healing, "[t]he objective of Ice Breakers/Acquaintance Activities [I position Name Games here as getting acquainted], is to provide opportunities for group members to get to know each other and begin feeling comfortable with each other through activities, Initiatives and games that are primarily fun, non-threatening and group-based." [Note: There are different kinds of ice breakers - e.g., initiatives - lead in an 'ice breaker' way.]
The key aspects in this objective, for me, are 'primarily fun' and 'non-threatening.' Mark Collard, in his book, Serious Fun tells us, "To truly 'break the ice' and, critically, create a platform upon which your group will thrive, an experience must reflect most, but hopefully all, of the following five criteria. It must be:
The Handshakes Memory Game is an Ice Breaker that can meet all five criteria. The handshakes are fun and often silly (using handshakes that are not embarrassing). Most people are okay with (touching) handshakes because of acceptable norms, so they are non-threatening. There is a lot of interaction when going back through the handshakes (and players are learning some names). The directions and demonstrations are quick and easy. And, most players can remember all of their handshake buddies in the end contributing to the overall feeling of success and comradery in the group.
Jennifer Stanfield also warns us about ice breakers. She states, "[m]any people have negative connotations with team building and ice breakers because they have been put in situations where choice and control were taken away. They were put on the spot too early [speaking in front of the whole group for example], embarrassed, asked to share intimate information, act silly, or perform in front of a group before they were comfortable doing so" (Tips & Tools for the Art of Experiential Group Facilitation, 2nd ed, 2016).
This warning tells us to consider the 'ice breakers' you plan to lead through the participants eyes - leaning to the side of super-safe at first, then progress from there. Make your best guess - if it doesn't work out, rebound with another activity to reengage your group. With time you'll get better at these choices as you see how thinks play out.
My (Chris') general rules for ice breakers: Little to no contact (Handshakes is my limit), participants are moving and mixing around talking with each other in pairs or small groups - usually sharing names, and people have a choice as to how much they share with others if they even choose to talk at all (they can mingle around, listen in and be a part of the group in this way).
Back in Islands of Healing, de-inhibitizers, "provide a setting wherein group participants are able to take some risks as well as make improvement in commitment and a willingness to appear [silly] in front of others." In Cowstails & Cobras II, Rohnke explains, "[d]e-inhibitizers get the group to let go, do something out of the ordinary, and act silly."
One example of a de-inhibitizer is Dog Shake (Silver Bullets, Rohnke, 1st edition). Participants are asked to position themselves on all fours, and literally, shake their entire bodies (especially the face) like a dog shaking off water - we've all seen a dog do this, now it's time for us to try (I think this can also be an energizer). Just something silly (if it's done at the right time, not right away).
Another example is Barn Yard (found in The Cooperative Sport & Games Book, by Terry Orlick, 1978). Every person is given (whispered) the name of a barnyard animal - about four or five animals are used. Then, everyone scatters out into the playing area. On GO! (eyes closed or open), participants make the sound (and movement if desired) of their given animals in order to find, and group with, the other animals that are like them.
And why would we challenge our participants to do these things? So they challenge themselves. To 'let go,' to be 'silly' and know it's okay to take some risks in order to grow together as a group. The idea that, 'we're all in this together, no matter what' is an objective of the de-inhibitizer.
De-inhibitizer, as an activity category, is not seen in any of the newer publications that I have. In the most recent activity book (on my shelf) from Project Adventure (The Hundredth Monkey by Nate Folan, 2012), the activities are not even categorized by type (ice breakers, de-inhibitizers and so on), they fall into 'Learning Themes' like Playing to Play, Building Trust, Relationships and Community, Self-Awareness and Self-Management and other Social Emotional Learning themes. The trend I'm seeing in activity books is focused on finding and sequencing activities that meet the needs and objectives of the group in a way that participants feel comfortable moving from the known to the unknow - learning and growing through the process. (It's now about, I theorize, subjective interpretation - more below - and the particular delivery of an activity that determines where it fits into a progression/program.)
My general rules for de-inhibitizers (if I even do anything on purpose to be 'silly'): I sense my group will have fun with what I've going to do (try), very short in duration with a clear choice of opting out, and we talk (at least a little) about the idea of how we 'look' in front of others - what is our self-talk, where does it come from, and how does it serve us (or not serve us).
'Fun' ( an ice breaker) and 'silly' (a de-inhibitizer) are very subjective. Something fun for you might seem very silly to someone else. Something silly could be downright embarrassing. This is where easing into your program, getting a sense of the group and testing out their interactions together helps you to choose activities 'right' for the moment. In other words, you need a good number of activities to choose from (in your plan) as you move forward - being able to 'switch things up' when needed.
There are A LOT of people (facilitators, educators, trainers) who have contributed lists of activities on the internet as a way to provide resources for team builders (and as a way to guide people to their online presence). Many of these lists, in my opinion, misrepresent the types of activities shared. Especially the 'ice breaker' lists. The activities go way beyond what I would lead as an ice breaker (under my general rules).
For example, I've seen, on more than one list, Helium Stick listed as an ice breaker. I have yet to see this one led by anyone I know in a way that is purposefully fun, getting to know names or keeping people in their comfort zones. (If you don't know Helium Stick, you can find examples on the web.) The subjectivity lies, I'll assume, in the way people have been taught and understand programming and sequencing activities. I've shared what I, and others, believe about ice breakers and de-inhibitizers. It's now up to you to define what they mean to you.
Which leads us to the final consideration from Aman. Let's count, 1, 2, 3......15, 16, 17 books are piled around me right now. Most of them are activity books from various people (Rohnke, Butler, Folan & Cain). I could not find a reference to the activity category, 'energizer' in any of them. There are all sorts of links to these activities however, on the web. They are defined (very literally) as activities used to energize participants or groups. Pretty straight forward.
HERE's a pretty good list of energizers (from SchoolWeb) - most of them follow my 'general rules' (below). If you do a quick scan of the activities on this list (just reading the sorter descriptions), you'll see that some could be considered ice breakers and others de-inhibitizers (basing on my general rules). Some could even be turned into the other activity categories listed above (e.g., Communication or Problem-Solving Activities).
Using energizers for such a purpose (commonly known as 'Brain Breaks' in educational settings), is about moving the blood around the body, back into all the fingers and toes - shaking things out a bit. For me it's even about 'clearing out' what just took place, so we are ready to move on to the next task.
My general rules for energizers: Participants will be moving most, if not all, of their body parts, simple instructions, fairly short in duration (again, using these transitions from one team building task to another), they can be done individually or in small groups and they don't require any processing upon completion. And, if the energizer has the potential to be embarrassing (e.g., Barn Yard), moving people out of their comfort zones, use these when you believe your group is ready to de-inhibitize.
It is easy to see the grey between these three categories of activities. we all have our own narratives based on our experiences. Stay mindful and step back if needed. Use care, be caring and take care of your groups.
Wait! But what about Warm Ups? We'll save this one, and others, for another time.....
WOW! I had so much fun digging through my books I lost track of the word count! I hope this long road of information gave you some clarity or some comparative data or maybe even some disagreement. Considering your team building activity sequencing and programming, my best hope is that you are meeting the needs of your participants, pulling them into the experience and the learning (staying within the growth mindset) and not pushing them away (into a closed mindset).
Other thoughts to consider? Please leave us a Comment so we can talk about it.
Be well and keep us posted!!
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
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Dr. Chris Cavert is an educator, author and trainer. His passion is helping team builders learn and grow.