Break the Ice with The Four Quadrants Activity

The Four Quadrants is a tried and true team building activity to break the ice with a group or team. It is now one of my favorite activities because:

  1. It is EASY to prep for and set up.
  2. It can be MODIFIED to work with any group and/or topic (just change the questions).
  3. It is FUN, COLORFUL and VISUAL.

I learned this from an amazing Master Certified Facilitator, Cheryle Maurer of Performance Consulting LLC.  She facilitated our MasterMind group through this process and we all loved it and learned new things about each other.

Here are the steps to facilitate The Four Quadrants activity:

  1. Give each participant a piece of flip chart paper and some markers.
  2. Ask them to divide their flip charts into four quadrants.
  3. Ask them to DRAW (not write) their response to four questions (one for each quadrant).
  4. Give them about 5-10 minutes to work individually.
  5. Then, regroup and give each person 4-10 minutes (depending on your time frame) to share their chart and responses with the group.

Here are the questions Cheryle used with our group:

  1. What do I bring to the group?
  2. What do I need from the group?
  3. What is your hobby?
  4. What is your vision for this group?

You can change the questions to work with any group.  For example, below are questions Michael Barrett, Resonance LLC used with a non-profit Board of Directors.  He said when they shared their charts with each other some were moved to tears.

  1. What do you BRING to this organization?
  2. What do you NEED from this team?
  3. What LEGACY do you want to help create through this organization?
  4. What is one event that FUNDAMENTALLY shaped your life?

I used the questions below with a team that was working on improving how they communicated to each other when under stress.  It was remarkable how much they opened up and learned about each other even though many had worked together for years.

  1. A current challenge I am facing outside of work…
  2. The types of things that stress me the most at work…
  3. What I need you to understand about me when I am under stress…
  4. What I need you to do when I am under stress…

Other questions you could insert:

  • Defining moment (personal or professional)
  • Moment of pride (personal or professional)
  • Worst fear (for the group, personally or professional)
  • Desired outcome for this day/session/series of meetings
  • Greatest challenge for this group
  • Greatest success for this group

This activity is so wonderful because you can write any four questions that you think will work for your group.  Or have fun with it and let them come up with their own questions.  Just think about what you want your group to know about each other.

What four questions will you use to get your next group engaged and sharing with one another?  Please share your ideas by commenting on this post below.

Happy team building!

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Comments 59

  1. Oooooh looks great! I particularly love the questions about legacy and also what I NEED from my job.
    Going to try this very soon

  2. Love this! Its simplicity and the ways it can be adapted to your specific group are excellent. And I love that you nudge the group to not use WORDS in their descriptions but PICTURES…get them to actually be more honest and candid.

  3. Great ice breaker! It’s always good to have something quick yet meaningful to start of a meeting. I really enjoyed how you gave alternate questions.

  4. Four questions that could be asked when working with a Leadership group:

    What does Leadership mean to you
    Why is Leadership important
    How would others describe your leadership style
    What values are important to you as a Leader

  5. Yes I agree and based again on time avaluable, I would ask that the rest of the group to first do a quick brainstorm interpretation on what they see before them about their fellow participant presenter before the person them self talk/comment on their images. It kind of has a two fold objective for me:i)wakes the group up to participatory intent- think,involve and engage; ii) it challenges Perceptions of their interpretations of what they see in the images…fun and memorable imprints

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  6. Brilliant! Earlier than this, one of my mentors used it for us as an ice breaker asking each participant to tell the group about the selves in picture without any alphabetical nor numerical notation…you’ve challenged my creativity there to adapt it in for a broader scope. Thanks!

  7. I read this couple of times before figuring out some bright aspects.To draw and express your self initiates the activity. Later, speech follows to explain what is what, how, why and so on…… ICE IS BROKEN with every one speaking out with enthusiasm ! Very good to emulate.

  8. You have some really great questions listed already! Here are a few more:
    What is your strength/skill set you bring to the team?
    What is a skill opportunity for you?
    How do you best like to communicate?
    What annoys you most at work? (or in a team situation)

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      Sharon – thanks for adding to this list – I am going to publish a Part 2 and will include your suggestions – and give you credit, of course!

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  9. Great activity to get groups talking! i have used it in therapeutic groups using the different stages of a persons life journey(depending on the age of group members)

  10. This works fine and you can use the Johari Window exercise as a closing to help team members see the need for opening up to build trust.

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  11. I participated in an entrepreneurship class years ago that used the same concept only we were given an 11×17 sheet of photocopier paper (ledger size) on which was drawn the shape of a heraldic shield. The shield was divided into 4 quarters with a banner cut out overlaying the shield. We had to fill in each quarter of the shield based on questions similar to the ones shared AND come up with a motto that summed up our approach to life/career. In addition to sharing it with the class members, we were instructed to take it home and share it with our family members. This could be used in a team whereby the quadrants represent one or more key strengths, values, goals and yes, even a shortcoming. Beyond discussing the shields, they could then be posted in the person’s work space as a visual reminder to themselves and others what they stand for.

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  12. Simple and fun.
    We need to get to core issues without doom and gloom.
    My life events may inspire someone else feeling the pressure from home.
    Bless you

  13. Oh Super activity ! Inclusive and quick. Can be done in a 40 minutes session. Some questions we did for line Managers to understand teammates better : 1. What is it that makes me look forward to Monday morning . 2. Of my job functions, I could do with help in ——— and ———-. 3. My top 3 values I seek in my job are : ………………. 4. Invariably, I don’t seem to make time to do the following of my routine tasks : ——, ———– and ——– 5. Top three challenges in my personal life that are currently affecting my performance

    A lot comes up in these sessions and if moderated well, fosters a good understanding and empathy among the teammates.

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  14. Wonderful ideas! I’ve also used the shield activity in the past. This one is event simpler and avoids the “kindergarten” comments from some participants. Love the flexibility! Thanks for all the great ideas.

  15. Great exercise – thanks for sharing
    Questions I am going to try:
    Tell us one cultural attribute which is very important to you.
    How might that attribute be seen very differently by someone from another culture?
    What builds trust in your culture?
    What breaks trrust in your culture?

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  16. Nice thought. Can be customised based on situation. In case of a little large group, divide them in sub groups & let each sub group fill this for their respective team & then share with other groups. This will save the sharing time in addition to bringing cohesiveness in small groups.

  17. I work with a lot of technical people (engineers and scientists) who manage others, and I love to use drawing activities because it really moves people outside their comfort zones (in other words, they hate it!). I come back to this when we talk about change, and they are complaining how much people resist change. “Oh, you mean like your reaction when I asked you to draw your ideas, rather than list words?” It helps them to recognize that most people resist being pushed outside their comfort zones.

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      Lelio – there are several ways to subscribe – just go to the website better-teams.com and type in your email. Glad you enjoyed the Four Quadrants!

  19. I used this as an icebreaker for a relatively new team and it was fun and informative. The best feature is that it can be modified with any questions based on current initiatives, needs of the team, etc.

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