Ice Breaker for international teams


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In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and they may attend meetings at various international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives.

Cultures and sub-cultures

You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.

When I think of different cultures on a project team, I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)

In the exercise, participants answer questions from their own perspective being as true as possible to how things are done at the location or group that they represent in the exercise. Most people who have lived internationally for some years have already adapted to habits and ways that conform to expectations and habits for their new location and how people do things there. If your intention is to highlight the richness of different perspectives you have present at the event where you run this ice breaker – ask participants to think back to a time when they lived in location X or worked with group Y – how would they answer the question then?

The downloadable document above contains several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic of diversity and inclusion as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.

This ice-breaker can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people to the team from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but are from different offices. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches).

Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project.  Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.

Team Effectiveness Check


The strength of teams lies in their ability to achieve more as a group working together than as individuals working independently on various parts of a project or activity.  The main obstacle to a team achieving the optimal performance level is the ability of the individual team members to work together collaboratively.

You can select the right team members based on the knowledge you need, the skills and competencies you need and the experience levels you need for a project. And the team performance can still be very disappointing if the team members do not communicate effectively, are not sharing information in a comprehensible way, and are not clear on how to coordinate with each other to avoid rework or waste their efforts working on the wrong items.

The success of a team is measured by more than one aspect. Examples include:

  • Achieving project milestones and objectives
  • Satisfied stakeholders
  • How well team members are working together – getting more done with more innovation and inclusiveness in a shorter period of time
Team Success Measures

Phases of a team

Any team will go through developmental phases starting from the first day the team members spend together. If these phases are navigated successfully, they can help team members build a high level of trust which enables the team to achieve a high performance level. The leader of a team has an important role to play throughout the phases of team development to help the team achieve their goals in the most effective and efficient .

Measuring team outcomes

Setting out to measure the progress of a team’s efforts is simply about communicating and then monitoring KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on a regular basis. KPIs are typically set around costs, time to completion, quality of the product etc.

Measuring the cohesion between team members and how well the team is functioning is not that simple. Every team member most likely has his or her own opinion of how well the team is functioning and where improvements may be needed. Team members also would have opinions about whose “fault” it may be that things are not better. The question is often whether it is a lack of knowledge, a lack of motivation or actually interpersonal conflicts and distrust which is contributing the most to dysfunctions.

Team effectiveness Check

Using this short team effectiveness check, is a great way for leaders to take a quick look at how each of the team members see the team at that moment in time and identify where discussions may be needed to clarify or remove issues that may be hampering team functioning.

The purpose of this quick survey is to gather input from the team on their own perspectives. Remember that a perspective is just how one person sees things at that moment in time. It does not mean that the perspective of one person holds true for the rest of the team. It is important though that you understand whether one or more team members are not feeling included, engaged or unable to contribute based on a lack of internal alignment with other team members on goals etc

As the team leader or team coach, ask your team members to fill this out maybe once a month – more often if you are going through a difficult phase as a team and you are concerned about how well things are going for each team member. I would not do this more than once per week.

Note that your team dynamics will most likely change when you add members, remove members or when your project enters a completely new phase of functioning and performance expectations. At those moments you are likely to see a decline in previously recorded good scores for team effectiveness and functioning.

Use this tool as a way to quickly diagnose where the team is at and use it as a starting point for some team or one-on-one discussions to address concerns raised. Include an external person to facilitate difficult team discussions if you feel it may be helpful – someone from HR/Learning and Development/team coach may be able to use their expertise and skills in group dynamics, conflict resolution and interpersonal relationships to get your team out of a rough spot when it occurs.