What is Common Ground?
The Common Ground icebreaker is a group activity that encourages team building and promotes unity among participants. The purpose of this exercise is to help individuals recognize their commonalities and unique characteristics, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding.
In the Commonalities portion of the activity, groups of five to eight people work together to compile a list of things that apply to everyone in the subgroup, encouraging them to think deeply and avoid superficial observations. Following this, participants engage in the Uniquities part, where each person is identified as having at least two unique traits or experiences that set them apart from others in the group.
This activity is suitable for ages 12 and up, with recommended settings being indoors. It requires minimal materials (two sheets of paper and a pen/pencil per group) and has no messiness factor, making it a versatile icebreaker for various occasions. By participating in Common Ground, individuals not only develop better relationships with their peers but also gain insight into their own unique qualities that can benefit the group as a whole.
Rules for Common Ground
- Form groups of five to eight people.
- Give each group two sheets of paper and a pen or pencil.
- In the Commonalities section, compile a list of things that apply to everyone in the subgroup without being overly obvious.
- After 5 minutes, have a spokesperson from each subgroup read their list.
- For the Uniquities section, find at least two unique characteristics for each person in the group, avoiding superficial traits.
- After 5-7 minutes, have each person say one of their uniquities or have a person read them one by one for others to guess who it is.
- Encourage digging deeper to avoid superficial observations and promote unity and awareness of shared and unique characteristics.
Materials needed for Common Ground
- Two sheets of paper: These will be used by each group to write down their commonalities and uniquities.
- A pen or pencil for each group: These will be used by the groups to write on the sheets of paper.
Setting up for Common Ground
To set up for the Common Ground icebreaker activity, follow these steps:
- Choose a suitable indoor location with enough space for small groups of 5-8 people to gather comfortably.
- Divide the participants into groups of appropriate size, ensuring that each group consists of diverse individuals.
- Allocate enough time for both parts of the activity – Commonalities and Uniquities. Consider setting aside around 10-12 minutes in total (5-7 minutes per part). This timing may vary depending on group dynamics and the number of participants.
- Explain the rules and objectives clearly to all participants, emphasizing that they must dig deeper than superficial observations for both commonalities and uniquities. Encourage them to avoid listing obvious traits or characteristics.
- Assign a spokesperson from each group who will be responsible for reading their subgroup’s lists during the Commonalities section of the activity.
- Ensure that participants understand the rotation process if you plan on having half of each subgroup switch groups for the Uniquities portion of the activity. If all participants are to remain in their original groups, clarify this as well.
How to play Common Ground
- Form groups of five to eight people: I begin by dividing the participants into small groups, ensuring each group has between five to eight members. This size is ideal for effective communication and collaboration.
- Give each group two sheets of paper and a pen or pencil: Next, I provide each group with the necessary materials: two sheets of paper and writing utensils. The first sheet will be used for the ‘Commonalities’ activity, while the second sheet is for ‘Uniquities.’
- Participants compile a list of Commonalities: In their groups, participants work together to identify common traits or experiences that apply to everyone in the group. They should avoid superficial observations and instead focus on deeper connections.
- Set a time limit of five minutes for the Commonalities activity: I give the groups a clear timeframe, typically five minutes, to complete their lists of Commonalities. This encourages focused discussion while still allowing for creativity.
- Have a spokesperson from each subgroup read their list: Once the time is up, I invite one representative from each group to share their Commonalities with the entire audience. This process allows participants to recognize shared experiences and build connections with others.
- Rotate or keep groups together for the Uniquities activity: Depending on my goals for the session, I may choose to have half of each subgroup join a new group or remain in their current group for the next part of the exercise. This decision will influence the depth and breadth of the unique traits discovered.
- Participants record Uniquities on the second sheet of paper: In their groups, participants now focus on discovering and recording at least two unique traits or experiences for each individual in the group. These should be characteristics that set the person apart from others in the group.
- Set a time limit of five to seven minutes for the Uniquities activity: I provide another clear timeframe, typically between five to seven minutes, for groups to complete their lists of Uniquities. This encourages focused discussion while still allowing for creativity.
- Have each person share one of their Uniquities or have a representative read them aloud: To wrap up the activity, I invite participants to share one of their unique traits or experiences with the larger group. Alternatively, a representative from each group can read the list of Uniquities, allowing others to guess which trait belongs to whom.
- Encourage going beyond superficial observations: Throughout the exercise, I remind participants to avoid focusing on superficial characteristics and instead dig deeper to discover more meaningful connections and unique traits. This helps foster a stronger sense of unity and individual empowerment within the group.
Benefits of Common Ground
- Builds unity: By identifying commonalities within their group, participants are able to recognize the shared experiences and values that bring them together, fostering a sense of camaraderie and team spirit.
- Encourages active listening: In the Uniquities portion of the activity, participants must actively listen to one another in order to identify and understand each person’s unique characteristics, promoting better communication within the group.
- Promotes self-awareness: The exercise encourages individuals to reflect on their own unique qualities and strengths, allowing them to feel empowered and valued as a contributing member of the team.
- Reveals hidden similarities: By digging deeper into commonalities beyond surface-level observations, participants may discover unexpected shared interests or experiences that strengthen their connections with one another.
- Enhances empathy: Recognizing and appreciating the unique qualities of others can help build understanding and compassion among team members, reducing conflicts and fostering a more harmonious work environment.
- Improves group cohesion: Through increased empathy, self-awareness, and active listening, participants form stronger bonds, leading to improved collaboration and overall group performance.
Skills built with Common Ground
- Communication skills: The Common Ground icebreaker encourages participants to express their thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively as they identify commonalities and uniquities within their group.
- Collaboration skills: By working together to find things that they all have in common and unique characteristics that set them apart, participants learn to collaborate and build relationships with one another.
- Critical thinking skills: The activity requires participants to think critically about themselves and their group members, digging deeper to find meaningful commonalities and uniquities beyond the superficial.
- Empathy and active listening skills: As participants listen to each other’s unique qualities, they develop empathy and learn to appreciate the individual strengths and perspectives of their group members.
- Self-awareness and self-confidence: By recognizing their own unique characteristics, participants can feel empowered to offer something unique to the group and gain confidence in their own abilities and contributions.
- Diversity and inclusion skills: The Common Ground icebreaker promotes diversity and inclusion by encouraging participants to recognize and value the differences among them, building a more inclusive and equitable team environment.
Why I like Common Ground
I appreciate the Common Ground icebreaker because it effectively promotes unity and collaboration within groups. By encouraging participants to focus on shared experiences and commonalities, this activity fosters a sense of belonging and inclusivity. This is particularly important in team-building settings, as it helps break down barriers and establish connections among individuals.
What I also like about the Common Ground icebreaker is its emphasis on discovering unique qualities within each group member. By acknowledging and celebrating these distinct characteristics, participants can develop a better understanding and appreciation of one another’s strengths and contributions. This aspect of the activity not only empowers individuals but also contributes to building a stronger team dynamic.
Moreover, I find this icebreaker engaging and insightful due to its two-part structure. The first part, Commonalities, encourages deep reflection on shared experiences, while the second part, Uniquities, challenges participants to think critically about what makes each person unique. This balance between discovering common ground and appreciating individuality results in a well-rounded team-building experience.
In conclusion, I like the Common Ground icebreaker for its ability to foster unity, promote inclusivity, and celebrate individual strengths within teams.
Tips for making Common Ground more inclusive
- Tip: Use gender-neutral language. Instead of saying “man” or “woman,” say “person.” This ensures that everyone in the group feels included and respected.
- Tip: Avoid assumptions about abilities or experiences. Don’t assume that everyone can do certain activities, has had similar life experiences, or holds the same beliefs and values. Instead, focus on commonalities that are objectively true for all members of the group.
- Tip: Encourage active listening and respectful communication. Create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions without fear of judgment or ridicule. This can help build trust and promote inclusivity.
- Tip: Use open-ended questions to encourage deeper reflection. Instead of asking yes/no questions, ask open-ended questions that invite group members to share their experiences, perspectives, and values. This can help uncover commonalities that might not be immediately apparent.
- Tip: Emphasize the value of diversity and uniqueness. Acknowledge that each person brings unique strengths, skills, and experiences to the group, and highlight how these differences contribute to a more dynamic and innovative team.
- Tip: Be aware of cultural differences and biases. Avoid using language or examples that might be offensive or exclusionary to certain groups, and be open to learning about different cultures and perspectives. This can help build cross-cultural understanding and respect.
Reflection questions for Common Ground
- What did you learn about your group members in this activity? This question can help participants reflect on the new things they discovered about their teammates that they didn’t know before. By sharing these insights, it can foster deeper connections and understanding between group members.
- How did you feel when you shared your unique characteristic with the group? This question invites participants to reflect on their emotions during the activity and understand how being vulnerable can impact team dynamics. It can also encourage empathy and support among group members.
- Did any commonality or uniquity surprise you, and why? This question allows participants to share unexpected discoveries about themselves or others, which can further strengthen connections within the group. It can also highlight unique qualities that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.
- How does this activity help us as a team, and how can we apply these insights moving forward? This question encourages participants to consider the broader implications of the activity for their team’s dynamics and performance. By reflecting on how to apply these insights, it can lead to improved communication, collaboration, and overall team cohesion.
- What did you find most challenging about this activity, and how did you overcome it? This question offers participants an opportunity to share any difficulties they experienced during the activity and discuss strategies for overcoming challenges in a group setting. It can help build resilience and problem-solving skills within the team.
- How does recognizing commonalities and uniquities contribute to building trust and respect among team members? This question encourages participants to think about the importance of diversity, inclusivity, and empathy in a team setting. It can help create a more supportive and collaborative environment for everyone involved.
About the author
Founder & Chief Icebreaker
I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.
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