One of my favourite icebreakers that I have used for people to get to know each other better, especially in new organisations, is People Bingo.

There are different versions of the game, but the one that I think works best is when the people involved are (confidentially) asked by the facilitator to provide an interesting fact about themselves.

These are then collated into a bingo-style scorecard. A matrix with the squares occupied not by numbers but by a different person’s fact.

Everyone then gets a copy of the same bingo card (and pen/pencil) and the aim is to identify whom everyone is. Which interesting and strange experience belongs to which person.

You can play it like normal bingo, say the first person to get a complete row correctly, or as I prefer, wait until someone has ‘full house’ with all of the answers.

Guessing is obviously an option but, as the aim is to get people talking to everyone else and to encourage the breaking down of personal barriers, it works best if people ask each other whether they are the person who was previously ‘a professional tennis player’ for example.

It is preferable to only to ask one question of one person at any one time (rather than go through the whole list with the same person until you have found their ‘fact’!) And lying if someone does discover you correctly is not one of the aims of the game!

As I said, this game works well with large numbers of players and especially if many of the participants are new to the organization and to each other.

One of the times I have used it was when I worked for the New Zealand company and we had set up almost a completely new organization in Europe with 60 people. Then it took us about 40 minutes of intensive interaction to get a winner.

Despite working in the dairy business, the roll call of interesting facts on our People Bingo card was impressive. These included (apart from the professional tennis player): was a peach farmer; was a rough uncut diamond grader & trader; has sold over 50 of own paintings; bakes bread (specialty San Francisco sourdough); worked for John Cleese for a week; starred in a film with David Soul; walked through the lions for 17km in Botswana after car stuck in sand; crazy about Christmas (has enough decorations for 4 houses); survived an elephant attack by hiding with a baboon; worked in chemistry lab alongside a future Nobel laureate; managed to find someone they had met in Europe in New York without address or telephone number; worked for the KGB; represented their country as an international in 5 different sports; learned Mandarin in 6 months with no English speaking teachers; was married in the football stadium of the team they support; works in a riding stable with disabled people; swam with sharks (three different people in three different countries); piloted a helicopter above New York and impossible to sink (can lie in a pool on back & read a book). My two favourites though were: ran away from home with chips, chocolate and map; and castrated 600 sheep in one day. You get the idea. And the fun that can be had.

But obviously People Bingo can be played with any sort of ‘fact’ as simple as: wears contact lenses; is a twin; is left-handed; has two cats; favourite colour is purple. Although when I’ve played it, like my examples above, people are normally much more inventive (and remarkable).

At the end of the session, everyone had indeed talked to everyone else and had heard some very interesting stories about their fellow employees. And the teamwork and business performance was dramatically improved.

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