We've all had to suck it up and play along at one point or another. Try as we might, we can't avoid it -- the office icebreaker. At many an awkward gathering, you'll find an excited leader who insists on an activity to break the ice between strangers. And sometimes, as much as many of us hate to admit it, icebreaker activities do give us an opportunity to meet and learn about our coworkers. Ironically, if nothing else, the shared anguish of the icebreaker experience fuels camaraderie.

Icebreakers are group activities or games intended to help people get acquainted. The group could be made up of total strangers, people who are only loosely acquainted or co-workers who don't naturally socialize (or possibly don't even get along). How do businesses use icebreakers to improve communications among employees?

One theory poses that icebreakers evolved from a psychology trend in the 1960s called the Human Potential Movement [source: Tennant]. Subscribers to this movement believe that people possess hidden talents and abilities that can be best drawn out and cultivated by organized group activities and interaction with others. One of the methods used to draw out someone's talents would be to encourage assertive behavior [source: Corsini]. Icebreaker games encourage participants to take initiative and instigate interaction with others in order to help the whole group integrate.

Despite the potential emotional discomfort of an icebreaker, many experts agree that icebreaker activities are extremely useful. Knowing good icebreaker techniques can help individuals learn how to comfortably start up conversations in day-to-day interactions as well as reduce stress, and, theoretically, increase productivity in an office. In the next few pages, we'll look at some tried and true icebreakers that work for adults in a variety of situations. Although they're loosely broken into categories, many of the games listed are versatile and can be used in several kinds of environments. We'll start with the most common icebreakers, those meant for a group of strangers, on the next page.