15 Amazing Group Dynamics to Break the Ice

by Bernard de Luna

I had the opportunity to attend the Techstars Brazil Summit 2016 at São Paulo. As a Facilitator and Community Leader, I spent the amazing days there sharing experiences about our communities and how to improve them to stay competitive and fascinating. I had the mission to give a workshop to almost 40 people, and with my experience on workshops and group activities, I decided to share some tips and dynamics to do at Startup Weekend with the attendees. The final feedback was so amazing that I decided to create a post to share my experience with you 🙂

But Why Group Dynamics, You Ask?

Well, we know Startup Weekend is a life changer. So, to be able to facilitate group activities is a necessary skill to make the weekend unforgettable. There are many different objectives of group dynamics. I prefer to group them into 3 categories:

  • Create a Positive Group Atmosphere

Icebreaker activities are intended for a group of participants who don’t know each other well. All facilitators should apply a icebreaker dynamic to break down social barriers and help people to have crazy and disruptive ideas.

  • Energize & Motivate

Vibrant activities intended to re-engage people into their activities and help you to take control of the space energy.

  • Help People to Relax

Experimental activities meant to relax and de-stress teams. Some activities are also focused on creating a more meaningful and inspiring experience for the audience.

Before I start showing you some dynamics, here are a few considerations to take into account:

  • Before you start an activity, check some variables like space size, tables, stairs, temperature, music, mic volume, lighting, etc.
  • Only pick up your phone to check time or time activities, or something that I love, play and pause music on spotify remotely. Remember that you are the reference of the audience throughout the dynamic, even if you’re not saying anything on the microphone.
  • Encourage organizers and mentors to participate in the dynamics. Take the opportunity to realize they are also fun and involve them more throughout the event.

1. One, Two, Three

Useful for: Icebreaker, opening the final Pitches

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

Ask participants to form into pairs. If the final number is odd, you complete the game. One of the participants has to start counting, while the other participant starts at the second number (i.e. they say one, then I say two, etc.).  Loop count 1 through 3, and continue counting faster and faster.

In 10 seconds, you can celebrate with them. Tell them how easy that was and you want to make the dynamic more complicated. Have them repeat the same process, but this time, rather than saying “one”, substitute it with a handclap. 10-15 seconds later, you can celebrate again with the participants – have fun and laugh with them. Repeat the process again by changing the number 2 to a different action, like barking. Then in the third round, change the number 3 to a scream.

This activity is a great opportunity for you to record and put on Instagram and Snapchat to start to engage the event on social media.


2. Start a Band

Useful for: Icebreaker, Opening the final Pitches

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

Do you like music? How about if you use the crowd to create music? In this activity, you have to split the audience into instruments to create collaborative music. If you are facilitating in a open space, use each team to simulate an instrument, if you are facilitating in a space like a theater or auditorium, create invisible columns to split the audience.

I love this activity, so I recommend that you practice a little at home by recording some sounds and interacting with your own videos to see what could work. Here are a few tips to help you in this task:

PS: Make your song have a 4/4 time signature (common time).

  1. Evolve the music in order: Beat, sample, effects
  2. Start counting loud until 4. The quarter note gets the beat, so you can clap your hand to mark the beat.
  3. Ask for the second column to do two-fast claps in the 2/4. Now you have a dance beat.
  4. Ask for the other columns to create another clap using body sounds to get more rhythm. Check the Stomp videos on youtube to generate more ideas ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0XdDKwFe3k ).
  5. Create some notes to create a sample and play with the audience.
  6. Maybe even try to re-create “Build Me Up Buttercup” 

Just remember, you have to define your time and strategy really well to play this dynamic, because it can demand too much energy to engage the audience and compromise your schedule.


3. My Name Is

Useful for: Icebreaker

Supplies needed: None

People: 20-60

Ask each person to state his/her name and say an adjective that starts with the same letter of her name e.g. Dynamic Dave, Bold Bruna, Fast Felipe. You can refer to them by this for the rest of the evening and make everyone laugh.

PS: His/her adjective can’t be attached a dominant characteristic. This rule is so important to keep the environment positive and avoid embarrassment.


4. Toilet Paper

Useful for: Icebreaker

Supplies needed: None (but you can use a toilet paper roll for demonstration)

People: Teams of 6+

Give 7 minutes for all groups to decide what the best way is to use the toilet paper. They need to reach a consensus, think about the rational and emotion. Then in 1 minute, the leader of each group says the conclusion and the reasoning behind their pick. The group that makes the best argument wins.

After the activity, use a moment to say there’s no right answers, explain that the best way is what was best for them. Take this time to also say that a consensus doesn’t consist in a battle of opinions, but a collaboration of opinions, and they need to consider this over the weekend.


5. Human Knot

Useful for: Icebreaker, Open the final Pitches

Supplies needed: None

People: Teams of 5-10 (Split larger groups into multiple circles)

Have participants stand shoulder to shoulder in a tight circle. Instruct the members to put their right hand in and grasp the hand of someone across from them (not beside them). The members should now put their left hand in and grasp the left hand of someone across from them (not the same person). Now the members must “untie” the knot without anyone unlinking.

The group “wins” when they have un-knotted the chain into a large circle or multiple circles. If a group unlinks any hand, you can make it harder for them, by blindfolding some members of the group, or forbidding them to use their voice to communicate in the activity.


6. Rock, Paper, Scissors

Useful for: Icebreaker, Saturday Night, Open the final Pitches, Entertain the audience during the deliberation

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

This is my favourite Startup Weekend game. It’s funny because it is a competition inside another competition.

The shapes are “rock” (a simple fist), “paper” (a flat hand), and “scissors” (a fist with the index and middle fingers together forming a V). The game has only three possible outcomes other than a tie: a player who decides to play rock will beat another player who has chosen scissors (“rock crushes scissors”) but will lose to one who has played paper (“paper covers rock”); a play of paper will lose to a play of scissors (“scissors cut paper”). If both players choose the same shape, the game is tied and is usually immediately replayed to break the tie.

The players usually count aloud to 3, or speak the name of the game (e.g. “Rock Paper Scissors!”), each time either raising one hand in a fist and swinging it down on the count or holding it behind. On the fourth count, the players change their hands into one of three gestures, which they then “throw” by extending it towards their opponent. Variations include a version where players shake their hands three times before “throwing.”

After a match, the winner has to walk around looking for another winner, while every loser becomes part of his/her crowd. In the finals, put the competitors on stage. 


7. Jump In, Jump Out

Useful for: Icebreaker, Saturday Night, Open the final Pitches, Entertain the audience during the deliberation

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

This icebreaker is great for getting your group warmed up, both physically and mentally! It activates listening and communication skills while letting your group have fun and laugh at their own mistakes. To start this activity, have participants stand in a circle and hold hands (see an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6bHltjIYzE ).

Round One: Have participants REPEAT AND DO as you say. For example, say, “jump in.” Participants will say “jump in” as they do so. Use the directions jump in, jump out, jump right and jump left.

Round Two: Have participants SAY AND DO THE OPPOSITE of what you say. For example, say, “jump in.” Participants will say “jump out” as they do so. Again, use the directions jump in, jump out, jump right and jump left.

Round Three: Have participants REPEAT BUT DO THE OPPOSITE. For example, say, “jump in.” Participants will say “jump in,” but actually jump out. Use the directions jump in, jump out, jump right and jump left.


8. Dead, Alive

Useful for: Saturday Night, Entertain the audience during the deliberation

Supplies needed: None

People: Any

When you say: “Dead!” everyone will be crouching or sitting. When you say, “Alive!”, Everyone will stand. Those who do not follow the orders are eliminated until 3 or 4 participants remain. Bring them to the stage and continue until there is a winner.

The difficulty level changes as the speed at which the commands are given, recalling that the sequence of orders can vary, for example: “Alive! Alive! Alive! Dead! Dead! Alive!” This will confuse the players and still require more attention from participants. You also can create some pranks like yelling, “Bread”, “Ted,” “Dread,” “Thrive”, etc.


9. Limbo Dance

Useful for: Saturday Night, Entertain the audience during the deliberation

Supplies needed: Stick or String

People: No limit

A participant moves to a rhythm and dances under a stick, held up by a person on each end of it, without knocking or touching it. If the dancer is successful, he must repeat this again and again with the bar being lowered another “notch” each time.

Each dancer does this until there is only one left standing who has not touched the bar, fallen down, laid on the floor or used his/her hands to keep balance. On-lookers as well as other dancers would clap and cheer (or egg on) and sing while the dancer tries to go under the stick. You can replace the stick with a string.

PS: You can create a competition between groups. Each group needs to send a participant to participate in this competition and define the champion.


10. Karaoke

Useful for: Saturday Night

Supplies needed: Microphone, Karaoke songs

People: No limit

Karaoke is meant to be sociable. So, you can challenge the teams by asking them to send a participant up to sing. You can make some mentors or organizers judges and rate the best performances.

At first, participants can be a bit shy, so try to break the ice by being the first to sing, having one mentor and one organizer to sing after you.


11. Talent show

Useful for: Saturday Night

Supplies needed: Microphone, Instruments, Cards, Tennis Balls, etc.

People: No limit

Invite people to participate individually or in groups to show off a talent. They can do magic tricks, dance, sing, play some instrument, do malabarism, and much more.

Yet again, at first, participants can be a bit shy, so try to break the ice by being the first to perform, and have one mentor and one organizer set up to perform after you.


12. Kung fu Master

Useful for: Icebreaker, Saturday Night

Supplies needed: None

People: Teams of 5-10 (Split larger groups into multiple circles)

Do not think of a pink pig! Yeah! You thought about it, right? This is how the dynamics of kung fu master works!

Place a mentor or organizer in the center of each circle. This person will be the kung fu master. The circle is closed and all members of the group are hand in hand. When you say GO! The masters will have to do 3 kung fu moves, and after that, participants have to start jumping and count to 5, unlink hands and make any “kung fu” move as long as it is different than the movements presented by the kung fu master. It is important to say that participants can’t repeat the same move.

Participants that repeat his/her own movement, or one from your master, is removed from the circle. When there is one person left in each circle, merge to a single group and that one person will be the kung fu master. Now, participants have to count to 3 instead of 5 as before.

13. Clapping Circle

Useful for: Icebreaker, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

Create a big circle and have all participants put their hands in front of them. Have each person interchange their hands so that the space in front of them contains not only one of their hands but someone elses. So, that pattern should be: your own hand, hand of person on your left, your own hand, hand of person on your right.

You should lead the group by having each person tapping their hand on the ground in a clockwise direction. Then repeat but in an anti-clockwise direction. Up the competition by allowing the participant to control which direction the tap moves in by adding in a double tap to change the direction. If participants are too slow or pick their hand up to tap out of turn, they are out and must remove their hand from the circle. The last two players are the winners.


14. Questions Only

Useful for: Saturday Night, Entertain the audience during the deliberation

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

I love this dynamic because I was a big fan of a TV show called, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” The format is very simple – only questions may be used in this activity.

Whoever makes a mistake is replaced by another person from the audience. If you want to give more rhythm, you can create some topics on post-it notes (similar to Half Baked) and change the subject with each error.


15. Right Path

Useful for: After the deliberation

Supplies needed: None

People: No limit

There is a traditional practice in a tribe in Africa where they take a person to the center of the village when they do something wrong. The tribe surrounds him, and for 2 days they say all the good he/she has done. The tribe believes each person is good, but sometimes people make mistakes, which is really a cry for help. They unite to reconnect them with his good nature.

Now it’s your time to invite all participants to pair up and hug each other and say good things about one another. It’s so inspiring! You can also do the same with organizers and mentors.



There are dozens of dynamics that can be used, but pay attention with these following tips:

  • Choose volunteers carefully and don’t cause embarrassment.
  • If something is not working, move quickly on to the next activity.
  • Timing is important.
  • No event is the same and your understanding of what will and will not work is your super power.
  • Enjoy it!

“People are here for many different reasons, but we are here for just one. Make their weekend unforgettable” @bernarddeluna


Follow me on Twitter @bernarddeluna. If you have any suggestions for a new, awesome group dynamic for Startup Weekends, please comment below.