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It's been quite a year with COVID, work from home, Zoom classes and meetings, and figuring out how to work together in this new environment. It has put a lot of strain on teams and individuals. As many (most?) of us have been working and teaching remotely over the past months, we’ve been revising how our teams and students work and learn together. One area that I’ve invested in is helping people to get to know one another a bit better, which helps us build trust and create openness norms that help remote work and learning.

I often start meetings and class sessions with a short icebreaker -- using the exercise to help people build relationships, encourage participation and engagement, and begin our class or work session on an interesting, and sometimes lively, note. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at this, but I will tell you it helps. We are social beings, and I’ve found that people often like to share their thoughts and experiences -- and it can help groups work together more effectively. Rather than thinking of getting to know one another as a time cost, I look at it more as a team (or class) investment.

Here are some of the questions I’ve used to start a meeting/session:


  • What’s not on your résumé?
  • What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
  • What was the best purchase you’ve ever made?
  • When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What’s your favorite childhood memory?
  • If you could only eat one food/dish for six months, what would you choose?
  • What’s your favorite movie of all time?
  • What’s the best book you’ve ever read (or read in the past 12 months)?

Our Technology

  • Show us the photo you have on your phone’s home screen and tell us the story of that photo.
  • What app do you get the most use out of?
  • What is the app you’ve recently added? What made you add that app?

Education/Job Related

  • What was your college major (or what was your original major and what did you switch to)?
  • What was the best (or most interesting or hardest) class you’ve ever taken?
  • What was your first paid job?
  • What was the strangest job you’ve ever had?
  • What’s the strangest (or most interesting) project you’ve ever work on?
  • What’s the best piece of career advice you ever received?

Work-From-Wherever Related

  • We can see what’s behind you (from your Zoom camera) -- what’s in front of you?
  • Show us something that’s on your desk that has meaning to you.
  • How do you start your workday?
  • Do you have a shutdown ritual for closing out your workday? If so, tell us about it.

Vacation/Travel Related

  • What’s your favorite place to vacation?
  • What was your best vacation ever?
  • What’s something you saw/did on a trip/vacation that we wouldn’t expect?
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world for two weeks, where would you go? Why there?


  • Six-Word Memoir: Write a story, or your life story, or about yourself, or about your week using only six words. This one started off as a contest in 2006 by SMITH magazine and it’s taken on a life of its own. We gave some examples of this in a previous post and you can see more about how to use this one, including prompts for the six-word stories on the Six-Word Memoir website.
  • Roses and Thorns: Go around the "room" and have everyone answer the first question: “What’s one good thing that happened to you [can something in your department, on your campus, on your project, in your personal life] this past week?” This is the Roses part. Then, go around the room again and ask everyone to answer the second question: “What’s one thing that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped this past week?”

By the way, all of these can work in face-to-face settings, as well.

Are there good get-to-know-you activities that you use to build trust and camaraderie among teammates and classmates? If you’d like to share yours, please let me know (see my name at the top of the blog post screen -- if you click on that it will get you to where you can send me an email) and, if we get several people to share, I’ll create another post with the new questions/activities/ideas.

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