Sunday, March 22, 2015

Constellation Icebreaker - Getting to know you

How do you get a group of folks to quickly learn about each other’s common interests? Consider the Constellation icebreaker technique.  Constellation is used to identify to what degree people from a group agree or disagree with certain statements (which can be based on a belief, idea, or value). 

This icebreaker technique is an informal way to get people to share a bit about themselves at the beginning of a training session, workshop, or when a new team is forming.  It is a non-confrontation way of learning people's opinion on a topic or statement.  Within seconds of applying this technique, the participants will clearly tell you what they think of the statement. Its also a great way to connect people together since they will visually see who has their common interests and opinions. There are several types of constellation icebreaker techniques and here is how the Constellation Orbital Icebreaker game works:

The set up:  
  • Identify a "center" of the room (or constellation).  This is the Sun.  The location of the Sun represents the highest degree of agreement with the statement.
  • Optionally, use masking or blue paint tape to create dashed lines around the sun in 3 feet/1 meter increments away from the sun.   
The activity: 
  • Ask everyone to stand on/around the Sun (aka., the center) - don't crowd too much
  • Speak the statement, e.g., "I love the Red Sox" 
  • Ask folks to place themselves either close to or away from the sun according to how much they agree or disagree with this statement (each person becomes the planet)
  • Once everyone has placed themselves, ask some/many/all of the folks why they have placed themselves where they are

Its a great way to learn about people fairly quickly.  Have you tried the Constellation icebreaker before?  If so, what do you think?  Do you have another icebreaker that you have found of value to getting folks to learn about each other?    


  1. (setup, not set up)

  2. I can see this technique going very wrong if the statements that are used are too controversial. Let's say that I'm a convinced climate change sceptic, and the statement is something like "man-made climate change is a threat to our future." If I head out of the room because the corner of the room isn't far enough away to express my disagreement, it puts me at odds with the rest of the group immediately, and makes the group likely to respect my other views less.

    Furthermore, the question must be chosen carefully to be ordinal and one-dimensional. The statement above falls foul of the one-dimensional criterion: it conflates the degree to which climate change is a threat and the timescale (by saying "our future"; what if someone believed climate change was a big threat to the planet but not for at least 100 years? Where would they stand?)

    It's a good technique in theory, but some business/semantic analysis is needed in practice.

  3. I feel its important not to get too scientific about it - It should be kept light weight as it is clearly an icebreaker and introduced as such, nothing too deep.