As trainers, we are often on the hunt for different methods to not only “break the ice” in a training class, but also for simple and fast ways to connect with each participant in a meaningful way.
I make sure every segment I design and facilitate connects to a learning objective. My icebreaker, however, is not always directly tied to the course goals. I take full advantage of that time to quickly connect with each student on a personal level and figure how he or she will fit into the group.
Within a few minutes I know: the social butterflies who will volunteer throughout the day, the overachievers, which participants prefer to stay in the background, and who my Doubting Thomas for the day will be. Knowing this allows me to not only respect learners for who they are and meet them where they are, it also helps me frame the day and quickly plan, or re-plan which activities will work better than others.
I am a lifelong student of emotional intelligence and understand that my classes are far more successful if I take that time to connect with everyone and to understand their personality, which, in turn, helps me get their buy-in. Without buy-in, no learning or behavior change will occur. If learners do not trust that my goal is to help them shine in their own individual way, they will doubtfully listen to anything I am there to pass along. This critical time also allows individuals in the room to learn more about each other and find similarities and connections with co-workers, so teambuilding often occurs as an unintentional side benefit.
While many of our training programs include personality assessments—be it MBTI, DiSC, Instinctive Drives etc. —they are not applicable in all sessions and rarely do you have time to perform personality profiles during a session, unless it is a class about working with different personality types. The more you can understand what makes people tick, the better the energy and flow of the class will be. And while I typically know the personality of each participant by the end of the day, I have found some shortcuts that can help me get to their core quicker.
One way of better understanding and categorizing people that I have found to be fast, effective, interesting, and fun for any size or type of group is to find out birth order.
Disclaimer: There are many facets to understanding birth order. Many of us have traits from a combination, and a few are truly outliers, so not every person will fit perfectly into a birth order category. That said, most of us do fall into one primary category and the following will provide a general overview.
Here’s How It Works
When participants are introducing themselves and sharing the typical “get to know you info” and personal goals for the training course, ask them to also share their birth order.
Here’s what you will learn:
First-born participants: Ambitious, natural leaders, and responsible.
Giving direction and taking over comes naturally to first-borns as they were raised with high expectations. They crave control, are uncomfortable with surprises, and seek approval of authority. They work with an intense focus and follow procedure. Their propensity to organize others helps them achieve whatever they set out to accomplish.
In class, call on first-borns when you need someone to stress a crucial point about a policy or procedure; allow them to be the expert and get co-participants to THINK. In breakout groups, watch as your first-borns take charge of the group and keep them focused. They will want to hear from you that they are doing an excellent job.
Only-child participants: Conscientious, industrious, and mature.
Only children are natural-born leaders, independent, and reliable. They often have a “higher” vocabulary and a strong sense of self-confidence and are comfortable with and skilled at public speaking. They have ambitious standards and will raise the bar for themselves and push those around them to be their best. They make great strategic thinkers and project finishers.
In class, bring only children into the discussion when it is time to talk about raising the standards. They can help you tee up the goals of a class perfectly while motivating those around them to open their mind to the content, so all will see the importance of stepping up their game. In breakout groups, they will step forward to present on behalf of their group, as well as ensure the group work gets done, correctly.
Middle-born participants: Social, peacemakers, fairness minded.
Middle-borns are quick to adapt and will naturally find a way of seeking compromise, which makes them brilliant negotiators who perform well in a team setting. They are flexible, and their desire for harmony will cause them to put others first. They do well on projects that give them a sense of belonging. Middle-borns are open-minded, naturally empathetic, and value communication.
In class, call on middle-borns when you need to highlight both sides of an issue and you want the participants to FEEL something. In breakout groups, they will step into the role of encouraging all members to share their ideas and will ensure a consensus from the group is obtained on the topic on which they are presenting back.
Last-born participants: Free spirits, risk takers, and initiators.
Last-borns are great innovators due to their sense of creativity. They are fun loving, charming, spontaneous, and crave being the center of attention. Decision-making and taking work seriously can be more challenging for this group. They are more likely to question processes and can be seen as revolutionary, but this helps them be fearless presenters and effective at selling ideas.
In class, call on your last-borns when you need someone to challenge what you are teaching. If there are questions about the new skills being introduced, they will speak up where others might not, so you can ultimately address any unspoken concerns in the room and achieve buy-in. In breakout groups, they will offer creative suggestions for group work and also can present back to the larger group and will be persuasive in their presentation.
While the ideal breakout groups will include someone from all birth order categories, if you find you are working with smaller groups, try these perfect pairings: first- with last-borns and middle-borns with only children.
By knowing “why people are the way they are” from their birth order, you can quickly determine when to call on individuals to get the best answer for the group that will accomplish the learning objective quickly and keep the class flowing. By mixing people up based on their varied strengths and focusing on what they each bring to the team, you ensure everyone has the chance to shine and learn in ways that resonate with them.
So if you are looking for a quick way to connect with your participants, learn what motivates them, know how they will behave during training and figure out who to pair up for group work…try the birth order icebreaker!
Kristy Westfall Moyer is a Training account manager at Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.