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I Am the Problem. An Ice Breaker.

Did you ever play Hot Potato when you were a kid? Or did you pick the Old Maid card out of someone’s hand during that card game? That same queasy feeling may occur when a team plays the following ice breaker titled I Am the Problem.

hot potatoThere may be any number of explanations when a team encounters a problem. Finding a good solution quickly is the main objective, not placing blame. The following ice breaker may at first seem to place blame but when you see it in action, it’s clear the activity draws out a variety of perspectives from the team. This is a tool in a team building tool kit and it’s only used occasionally. It enables the team to look at a problem a new way.

Here’s how it works.

The problem is stated to the whole team and everyone knows a game will be used to find creative solutions that might not have been provided.

Folded pieces of paper are placed in a container.  Each team member selects a piece of paper.  Written on only one piece of paper are the words “I might be the problem.” All other pieces of paper are blank or show a scribble.

Whoever gets that hot piece of paper must attempt to reach deep down and find an honest and candid response to that statement. Laughing is encouraged and permissible. The person who received the “hot potato” is forced to get a little burned but all for the good of the team. They must provide a response that is true to the best of their knowledge. In other words, they can’t completely make up an answer.

Here’s what someone might say:

If I might be the problem, it could be because:

I am frequently late.
I missed the last deadline.
Because I don’t see why I could be the problem.
Because I don’t talk to Susan as much as I should.
It may be because I didn’t test that last revision as completely as I usually do.
I need more help.

When the hot potato person is out of ideas, the ice breaker round begins again and the next team member who gets the slip of paper with the words “I might be the problem” begins with their thoughts.  The ice breaker gets repeated until the team feels as if they have enough ideas to explore that will lead to solutions. Team members sacrifice their pride for the sake of problem solving.

The premise behind this is to get everyone on the same playing field and to watch for trends in answers.  If everyone on the teams says, “I need more help” the team leader has valuable information that may be a warning for the road ahead. No one is perfect or immune from admitting failings or weaknesses. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone is flawed. It’s also an exercise in getting people more comfortable admitting they may have made a mistake, however big or small.

When the whole team plays, and the person with the best track record can find a reason why they may be the problem, everyone else learns how to change behavior and make the team tighter.

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