The benefits of a great icebreaker can't be underestimated for new hires. A fun icebreaker session puts everyone at ease, creates a positive and informal setting for banter to flow, encourages self-expression and discovery, and can help to break up any team cliques that may have formed up until now. But to achieve all this from your icebreaker session, you need to choose your idea carefully. 

Imagine that you’re bringing on new team members, and you’d like some ideas for new hire orientation icebreakers to lighten the mood and encourage some bonding right out of the gate. But here’s the problem: Everything you’ve found so far is...well, a little cheesy. 

You want your team to get to know each other on a deeper level, but you don’t necessarily think trust falls are the best way to make it happen. Things can also get awkward fast if the new employee orientation games aren’t right for the team size or dynamic. 

Now what? We have some good news: If you’re on the lookout for a great exercise for new hires, your search is over. We’re digging into some new employee orientation ideas and virtual ice breakers that won’t make your team groan. 

Want to make new employee onboarding even smoother? Grab this free checklist template.  

New hire orientation games for small teams

Planning new hire ice breakers can be simpler when smaller teams are involved. Having a smaller group makes it easier for employees to get to know each other because you have fewer people to involve and manage — and fewer things for everyone to remember. 

Here are a few new hire ice breakers that will help your team get to know each other on a deeper level. 

1. Two truths and a lie

You might also hear this one called “fact or fiction.” Everyone should write down three things about themselves on a piece of paper. Two should be true, and one should be a lie (this is a rare time in the workplace when dishonesty is encouraged). 

Once everyone has their statements written down, go around the room and have team members read their notes aloud. The rest of the group then has to guess which statement is a lie. Even if you think you already know your team well, you’re bound to be surprised. 

2. Name that person

Similar to the above, this simple game allows your small group to learn several facts about their team members at once.

Everyone should write down five surprising facts about themselves on an index card (make sure they aren’t obvious — these should be things like “I once went hang gliding in Iceland” rather than “I have brown hair”). Once that’s done, put all of the cards in a pile and mix them up.

Take turns grabbing a card and reading the facts. It’s up to your team to decide who that card is describing. Make sure you keep track of how many you get right! 

3. Word link

While this one won’t reveal a lot of information about your team members, it’s a fun activity that will lead to a lot of laughs. 

Have your group sit in a circle and pick a starting person. They should say a word (for example, “big”). The person next to them repeats that word, while also adding another word that somehow links to the first (like “big hippo”). The next person repeats those two words and adds their own… and so on. See how long your team can keep the chain going. 

New hire ice breakers for big teams

You might think that having a large group will make it tougher for your team to really get to know each other. However, there are several new employee orientation games that are even more fun with a big group. 

1. Superlatives 

Split your team into smaller groups of around eight players. Then, instruct them to arrange themselves according to some sort of sortable category. Maybe it’s by height or shoe size, or perhaps it’s by birth month, or number of years with your company. The sky’s the limit!

Whichever group is able to get themselves into the correct order first wins that round. 

2. Mingle mingle mingle

Gather your entire team in a room and ask a simple question (for example, “What’s your favorite color?”). Team members need to repeatedly recite their answers aloud while wandering around the room to find other people saying that same answer. 

This game is a great way for people to find common ground with others, despite your team’s larger size. 

3. Name aerobics

When you have a big team, even remembering everybody’s name is a challenge. This simple game helps with memorization in an active way.

Arrange team members in a big circle and ask for a volunteer to go first. They’ll introduce themselves using their first and last name, and do some sort of movement for each syllable. 

Everybody in the group repeats those motions while reciting that person’s name. Repeat that with each member of the circle. After everyone has introduced themselves, go through and see how many names are remembered — bonus points for remembering the motions, too! 

New employee orientation games for virtual teams

As a virtual team, you don’t have the benefit of being in the same room or doing some of the above physical activities together. But, that doesn’t mean that new hire ice breakers are off-limits for you. Here are a few virtual ice breakers you can try in virtual onboarding programs

1. Emoji questions

This is one you can easily do via email or your instant message platform. Ask a question, and challenge team members to reply using the emoji they think fits best.

Anything from “what’s your favorite food?” to “how are you feeling?” could work here. Don’t be afraid to get creative! 

2. Photo sharing

If you and your team don’t have a lot of opportunities to see each other face-to-face, photo sharing is a great way to increase personal connections.

Set a photo theme for the day. Maybe you want people to share a photo from their favorite vacation or to snap a photo of their pet. Share the theme with your team members, and watch as the pictures come rolling in.

3. Shared playlist 

Here’s a chance for your team to collaborate on something together. Even better? This shared initiative has nothing to do with their work projects.

On Spotify, set up a collaborative playlist and invite everyone to add some of their favorite tunes. Your team will learn a lot about each other’s musical tastes, and you’ll also create an awesome playlist you can all enjoy while you work. 

New employee orientation ideas to avoid

If the word “icebreaker” alone made you cringe, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of get-to-know-you activities that were awkward at best.

Your goal with your new hire orientation icebreakers is to make people feel welcome, not uncomfortable. You can make sure your activities don’t backfire by avoiding anything that:

  • Gets too personal: Remember, this is still a work team — you don’t want to get into details that are too intimate or sensitive.
  • Invades personal space: Not everybody is comfortable with physical contact, so don’t make that mandatory.
  • Unintentionally excludes team members: Your team is full of employees of varying abilities, and you need to keep that in mind. An icebreaker game that involves a lot of running, for example, won’t be doable for your team member who’s on crutches. 

One way to ensure your chosen icebreakers are inclusive and effective is to invite your team members to suggest them. Ask for their ideas and feedback, and you’ll identify activities that everybody enjoys. 

How to make new staff feel welcome: Don’t skip out on fun

Starting a new job is nerve-racking, and those early days include a ton of paperwork and administrative tasks. 

Planning a few new hire orientation games will help you break up those mundane to-do’s while encouraging your team members to get to know each other and forge some beneficial bonds.

Think you can’t pull this off with your own group? Think again. Icebreakers are doable on all types of teams — small, large, and even virtual onboarding programs. Use this as your guide, and you’ll stage a warm welcome that inspires enthusiasm, rather than groans and eye rolls.