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the magic mushrooms, the underwear scavenger hunt, and other awful workplace ice-breakers — Ask a Manager

Recently I asked about terrible ice-breakers you’ve been subjected to at work. Here are 10 of the most horrifying you shared.

1. The underwear

Many years ago, at a large law firm, the ice-breaker at our company retreat was to find all the other people wearing the same color underwear as you (no, I’m not making this up). The managing partner was wandering around the room saying, “Plaid? Anyone plaid?” while the rest of us just huddled in a large group and claimed white (at least nobody threatened to check us).

2. The mushrooms

Every week at our staff meeting a different person leads the agenda and asks the ice-breaker. A couple weeks ago it was a very high level person who said, “I was just reading an amazing article about hallucinogens. Have any of you ever done magic mushrooms?”

3. The skipping competition

The mid-year meeting we had last week started with a skipping competition. Yes, we had to skip across the room and were judged on how well we skipped. The person who won did some weird TikTok skip I knew nothing about.

4. The feet

We had to take off our shoes, hold hands while face to face with a colleague, and try to touch each others’ feet with our feet. It was horrific.

5. The dancing

As a facilitator, I’ve used ice-breakers every time I’ve opened a session, some (obviously) to better reception than others. For one session, my (high-energy) co-facilitator said they wanted to open the session with a new ice-breaker they’d found. I knew they’d facilitated often and knew roughly the right things to do…until apparently they lost their mind?

They played music and insisted that each attendee do a short dance! And that the NEXT person do that dance and a bit of their own until the last person did everyone’s dance?! Aw HELL no!

Cue the embarrassed facilitator (me) interrupting and going, “Of COURSE they’re joking! Let’s do *insert innocuous intros ice-breaker here* instead.” And dealing with a highly insulted co-facilitator at the break. Eye-roll.

6. The IQ tests

I’m not sure it was intended as an ice-breaker, but it was definitely ice-breaker-adjacent. We had a team meeting to meet our new boss, an external hire. Grandboss basically said “here’s Bob” and left the room.

Bob told us that the reason they had to hire outside the company was OBVIOUSLY because he’s smarter than the rest of us. There was an audible scoff when Bob mentioned he was in Mensa, which made him so mad that he decided we’d all take the same online IQ test, right here right now, so he could prove it.

So all 8 of us took out our laptops and went to the site he used and we all took the same IQ test. He turned around his laptop to show us his IQ score and said we’d go around the table and tell him our name, what we did, a fun fact, and then turn our laptop around to show our IQ score.

I got to go first. My fun fact was “IQ tests are racist,” and my score was 28 points higher than Bob’s. The next person’s fun fact was “I’m in Mensa” and his score was higher than mine. The rest of the team kept to IQ-related or Mensa-related fun facts – the word eugenics got mentioned several times.

Bob had the lowest score in the room.

He spent the next two years making us pay for his not knowing he was hired to manage a team commonly referred to as “the geniuses.” We did not have a going-away party when he left.

7. The pictures

This isn’t as bad as any of the examples, but in one Zoom meeting, we were instructed to set our Zoom to Gallery mode and then draw the person we saw to the left of our own picture. Then people would guess who you drew. But they didn’t think about the fact that Zoom makes the first person to join the picture in the upper left, and then your own picture next to that, then other people’s pictures, so we all drew the same person.

8. The pen

We were once told to imagine a pen was sticking out of our belly buttons and then “write” our name in the air in front of us. I never liked ice-breakers before this, but I hated them after.

9. The animal

Not a terrible ice-breaker, but this guy’s answer led to several calls to HR, made as soon as the event ended. People were going around the table saying what animal they’d be if they could be any animal, and why. This man, who wasn’t even supposed to be at this event as it was not his team’s, and who had crashed it because it was in the breakroom and there was food, goes “I would be a pig, because a pig’s orgasm is 30 minutes long.”

Instant office legend, but not in a good way.

10. The first kiss

I hate icebreakers. The worst one was when we had to go around and say about our first kiss? In a work context? It was so odd.

11. The bad judgment

I attended a very senior team meeting at a nonprofit I worked at (which I have dozens of terrrible stories about…). My CEO was in charge of the ice-breaker, and she bought a quiz she had purchased from Pop Bitch called “Enid Blyton or Erotica.” It was the most embarassing thing I have ever sat through – trying to choose if titles like The Naughtiest Girl In School, The Adventures Of Mr Tootsie Pole, and Granny’s Lovely Necklace were 1950’s childrens books or porn.

12. The violation

Years ago, I was in my first professional role with a new team, and the entire team was new to each other (the team had just been created and we were all outside hires). The leader invited an outside person to facilitate ice-breakers with us. One of the first few involved standing back-to-back with another person, bending over (so that your butts were touching) and shaking hands between your legs while upside down. Want to talk about awkward amounts and kinds of physical touching with someone you only know on a professional level?? Needless to say this set the tone for far too much oversharing of information in the next few years with this team that was “like a family.”


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