Creative Christmas party ice breakers

Christmas online holiday remote celebration X mas new year in lockdown, virtual Christmas party

Whether your Christmas party is in person or over Zoom this year – games and play can help to soften the edges of any meet up and break the ice.

Spontaneity, or at least the appearance of it, is key. It’s crucial not to over plan – we’ve all been subjected to so many rules this year, and so any play or games you indulge in should have as few guidelines as possible. Spontaneity, or at least the appearance of it, is key.

In some respects, we’re in a Golden Age of play and games – but it helps to understand what’s really playful, and what hidden agendas lurk inside more structured larks. In the past few years, in parallel with eSports and mass online video brawls, there’s been an explosion of new board games, LARPs (live action role play), and interactive adventures like ‘escape rooms’ and murder quests. There’s even some very clever ways interactive games are using the devices we can never put aside. One called Spaceteam – a ‘cooperative shouting game for phones and tablets’ – has 6 or 8 of you assigned varied duties to collaborate flying a spaceship while an app triggers you to shout ‘Honk the space horn!’, before synchronously shaking your devices to avoid cosmic wipeout.

Fun as many of these games are, they often have a level of complexity which forms a barrier, and they usually need someone to be ‘mistress of the rules’ so, before you know it, people revert to their office role-type and dominate or submit. There’s almost no room for creativity, plus it’s just another session of screen-tanning after a year of way too many screens. When it gets right down to it Christmas parties should be the time to get as child-like as possible, and this year that’s probably more important than ever. This is the spot on the calendar to really get to know the people you’re relying on and creating with, so it’s all about lowering the bar and seeing each other at your most unguarded and real. As Plato first observed, you find out more about Stephen from HR in an hour of play, than in a year of work.

Look to those very simple forms loosely called ‘drinking games’: because they lower the bar for entry by, necessarily, having few or very simple rules which can be followed no matter how liquid-softened your brain gets.

Really, it’s in this most basic playfulness that people’s true characters are revealed, and their carefully constructed outer shells are stripped away. And often, through really playing, you discover the people around you are actually nicer than you’d thought, so the simpler and more open-ended the fun is the better for forging relationships with less ego in the way. It’s a chance to see them for who they are not just the functions they fulfil.

  1. Sculptionary

Frankly, it’s pretty hard to beat Pictionary as a viewing port into people’s psyches. Give them a word or phrase to draw for their partner without using language, and against the clock, and the panicked scribblers and calm communicators can’t hide who they are. The best bit is that, counter to what you might think, ‘good draw-ers’ often lose because they miss the point about speed and focus. For a more tactile variant just replace the pencil with some modelling clay or dough and call it Sculptionary. Even better, get people to make a portrait of someone they work with, and keep people guessing who the subject is. Yes, it can get a bit raw, but people usually try to be flattering.

  1. Ichi Face

A few years ago I devised a game for public spaces called ‘ICHI FACE’ where players are given a portrait made of three people spliced together. A grand-scale face-hunt allowing people in big spaces like the V&A Museum to scrutinise everyone around them – something not usually allowed – until they find the unique eyes, noses and mouths in a crowd of hundreds, while instantly collaborating with total strangers. Thing is, you can have similar experiences using almost no equipment or set-up, and get similar perspectives, either really looking at people or looking at how they react. Nothing revolutionary, just tweaks on timeless classics.

Give pairs of people paper, pens and a blindfold, and get the ‘see-r’ to describe a picture they’re looking at, while the ‘artist’ in the blindfold tries to draw it. Terrible pictures but real insight guaranteed. Then, while you’ve still got the blindfolds to hand, set out a ‘minefield’ of small objects across the room and get the guides to steer the sightless ones to safety without ‘exploding’ the tennis ball or the coffee cup. In these childish ways, whole new facets of people are uncovered.

  1. Choc Joust

Movement makes all the difference. If you can get people up and activated then laughs will flow, and people are much more likely to loosen up. One of the simplest ice-breakers I know can be rebranded for the festive season as Choc Joust. Give everyone a chocolate coin to balance on the meat between forefinger and thumb on the back of one hand, and then ask them to (gently) knock off everyone else’s with their free hand, while keeping their own out of reach. Immediately you’ll have a room of people wheeling and swooping like broken airplanes, concentrating furiously, and revealing their true fight-to-the-death selves. Now they’re fully warmed you can get them to do anything you want, but if you need another simple frame just extend the Charades idea and ask them to act out the whole of their favourite movie in two minutes.

Paul PethickAbout the author

Paul Pethick has worked in many creative fields, runs a consultancy called PlayLab, and is the author of a new book Power of Play: How play and its games shape life.


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