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I am a certified peer support specialist at a mental health facility. I have never done any work like this before and would like some guidance setting up a plan on how to facilitate a group. What is the best ice breaker to use when first starting?

Thank you for your question. Learning how to plan and facilitate groups effectively is certainly a skill that can be developed with practice. As you consider what ice breakers or other tools you may use, I would share a series of questions for your to consider as you prepare that can help you decide what you need:
1. What does success look like for the session? One of the biggest mistakes that group facilitators make is being unclear about what they are trying to accomplish. Clearly defining your end goal early in the process is a huge help. Also note that sometimes we like to try and do too much in a single session. Be okay with accomplishing less, particularly if you are doing a series of group interactions where the next can build upon the last.
2. Who is in the group? Knowing who the group members are as individuals is essential to obtaining engagement. If you know beforehand, some review and reflection from their perspective is appropriate. If you do not, a good first session can help you identify what is important to the participants and help you tailor questions and content to their needs and desires. Also, it is important to do an analysis of the group dynamics. Is it the first session among strangers? Is it an established group? Is there conflict perceived or anticipated? These questions will help you anticipate as you plan each session.
3. What level of interaction do you want? As you've clarified your purpose, next you should think about how you want the group members to interact. Is this a teaching session where the facilitator gives instructions and participants respond, or an open dialogue amongst participants. Establishing the expectation will help you prepare content, questions or activities for the group. Ice breaker activities that may or may not relate to the topic can be particularly effective in the early stages of group process to generate trust and comfort among group members.
Once you have clarified your definition of success, your understanding of the individual and group dynamics and your level of desired interaction, you can effectively choose tools, like ice breakers, to help accomplish that purpose. For example, for a group that is completely new to each other in which you desire a great deal of interaction with the goal of having an open dialogue about an uncomfortable topic, get-to-know you icebreakers are particularly appropriate. Conversely, a group that has some track record and a clearly-defined task or decision, may be ready for deeper sharing or project-based activities to generate a sense of teamwork. 
For further information, please consult Chapter 16 of the Community Tool Box for more insights and resources on group facilitation. Best of luck as you build your skills in this important topic.

Question Date: Thu, 04/27/2017