In previous roles, I’ve worked in large K-12 schools where teachers regularly socialized almost exclusively within their faculty departments. It’s not surprising really, given the short amount of break times teachers get they gravitate to those they know best, share common interests and teaching subjects with and generally can easily build rapport together.
One of the downsides of this, however, is that often it leads to quite insular thinking and a lack of inter-department sharing of knowledge, ideas and what is / is not working in terms of effective pedagogy (especially when it comes to the integration of technology into the classroom). It’s rarely easy to solve this problem, but one fun solution I came across today is the “Icebreaker Bot” for Microsoft Teams. As per the documentation,
Icebreaker is a Microsoft Teams bot that helps your team get closer by pairing two random team members up every week to meet. The bot makes scheduling easy by automatically suggesting free times that work for both members. Strengthen personal connections and build a tightly knit community with this app.
In addition to encouraging personal connections across your entire team, the Icebreaker app can help cultivate interest-based communities within your organization. For example, you can use this app for a DevOps interest group to help ideas and best practices organically spread across your organization.
Starting out as a Garage Project internally at Microsoft, it was then used to connect the 3000+ interns who work at Microsoft and help them quickly assimilate and feel part of the wider Microsoft family. It has since been picked up by Vodafone, as per the launch blog:
One of our first customers to try Icebreaker bot is Vodafone. And here is what Jennifer Zhang, Innovation Manager at Vodafone’s employee innovation lab has to say about it – “We’re always looking for innovative ways to bring our diverse employee base to know each other better and break information silos. This is an exciting opportunity to do just that!”
Socializing isn’t easy and technology is not always the answer to solve this challenge either (despite the proliferation of “swipe right” apps out there!), however building a culture inside your school or university that encourages faculty to mingle widely and cross-pollinate ideas is a good thing to aspire to. Similarly, helping new students meet each other and helping facilitate a connection based on shared available time can help integrate new-comers in a faster, more meaningful way.
As people become more comfortable having technology make recommendations to them, be that movies, online shopping or even potential dates (!), using something like the Icebreaker Bot which randomly connects people but then suggests mutually available time based on calendaring in Office365, is unlikely to be too scary for many people these days. In the end, it’s about organisations driving a collaborative, connected culture, encouraging people to avoid remaining in silos, and instead being open to new ideas shared over a break or cup of tea.
If you give this a go in your organisation, I’d love to hear the outcomes in the comments below!