Icebreaker Bot – Assisted happenstance to strengthen your company culture

Published 06-26-2019 11:37 AM 96.3K Views
Microsoft
 

Creating a culture of camaraderie and personal connections to boost productivity and impact.

 

Team culture is the glue that holds an organization together. Today, I’m stoked to share with you something we created in our own kitchen and immensely benefitted from in shaping our team culture here at Microsoft Teams.

 

Introducing Icebreaker Bot: foster personal connections by pairing team members up for a meet up every week. This is surprisingly easy to set up. Just follow these steps – Step 1: create a team and invite people who are open to trying something new and meeting new people; Step 2: Install Icebreaker bot in this team.

Voila! Done! Every Monday at 10AM this bot will randomly pair each team member for a meetup. What’s even better – it will suggest times that are free for both parties (all thanks to Office 365 AI chops). See below for how the pair ups work:
 
IcebreakerScheduling1.gif 
As with all App Templates from Microsoft Teams, Icebreaker bot is a fully-built Teams app that is open-sourced so that you can brand and customize the experience for your employees.
Below is the story of humble beginnings of the Icebeaker bot, intertwined with a bit of history on the Teams product itself.

In March 2017, Microsoft announced the launch of Microsoft Teams. Since then, Teams has gone on to become the fastest growing app in the Microsoft’s history. While we were extremely proud of our success, such growth comes with its own set of challenges.
The concept of Microsoft Teams began with a small team offsite, led by (current Teams Corporate Vice President) Brian MacDonald at his Hawaiian fruit farm. Below is a picture from that time:
 

offsite.png

 

 
Since that day, the Teams team (we know..we know) has now grown exponentially, spread across multiple time zones around the world. At each all-hands meeting it became a ritual to welcome new team members with an ice-breaker tactic: have each person introduce themselves and share something unique about the person sitting next to them.
It worked well within the scope of the meeting, but outside it was becoming harder to bring a rapidly growing team to foster camaraderie and collaboration – a set of values that the Teams leadership placed high importance in.
 
 Sid, who was one of the early engineering managers in the team thought of running an experiment. He created a Teams Bot called “Meetuply”. Meetuply randomly paired team members up for coffee (or bubble tea which is quite popular among the team) every Monday at 10 AM. The app took off instantly tapping into the burning need everyone was facing – “Who are these new people and what are they working on?”.
Sid and the early adopters iterated quickly on the app and it grew virally simply by word of mouth. Team members would post their selfies or their pair ups to spread the cheer. Here are a few selfies from the early days:
 
Selfie #1: Meetuply facilitated disrupting geographical silos :smiling_face_with_smiling_eyes:

selfie1.png

 

Selfie #2: There is always excitement on who will get paired up w/ Brian each week. This guy got his lucky break this week.
selfie2.png
 
I fell in love with Meetuply when I joined Teams. It short-circuited growing my internal network here to a matter of few weeks. Pretty soon I knew everybody, and everybody knew me. I wanted to bring it to rest of Microsoft and externally to our partners and customers (as did many other people – Meetuply has a big fan following!).
 
During a meeting with someone in the team, Prasanna Bhat, Director of Customer Success Strategy, saw Meetuply on their desktop and immediately saw an immense opportunity in leveraging Meetuply within her 300-member strong community of Women in Customer Success. It took off instantly!
 
Here’s a selfie from Prasanna’s group:
prasanna.png

Prasanna:
“Diversity and Inclusion is a priority for the Customer Success and with the creation of the Women of Customer Success community, I was thinking about how we can drive strong connection in the worldwide community. I thought Meetuply was a simple yet effective way to meet peers. In just a short time, it has become one of the most effective ways of driving engagement and collaboration in the community and I receive messages every week on how much people enjoyed their Meetuply Match!”
 
Word of mouth spread – and it led to conversations with Mauri Rapuzzi, Manager of University recruiting who among other things, leads interns onboarding at Microsoft – each year 3,000+ interns are onboarded and making them feel a part of a larger family is Mauri’s toughest challenge. Mauri loved the idea and is now piloting the bot with a cohort joining us soon.

Encouraged by the electric enthusiasm internally, I set upon a plan to share Meetuply more broadly – and that is how ‘Icebreaker’ was born. With Sid’s help along with an awesome engineering team plus a little bit of creativity – we brought this experience out as an App Template that anyone and everyone can now use! It is essentially a twin of Meetuply but with more goodness added – deploying this bot to your instance of Teams is a matter of few clicks – no coding required!
 
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!”
 
So, go on give this bot a try in your organization. Visit this link to get started: www.Aka.ms/TeamsAppTemplates
 
As an added bonus, here's a wonderful video walkthrough of setting up Icebreaker for your team: Icebreaker Video Walkthrough
 
 
I’d love to hear your feedback on Icebreaker or ideas on what else you’d like to see from us. Please leave your comments and share your thoughts at this link here: Feedback
 
Also read:
 
42 Comments

What a great idea for a bot! Can it be used in the org-wide team? I can see a possibility of using the bot to encourage and reinforce adoption of Teams during a rollout. If not the org-wide team, using a Team for on-boarding - “Modern Workplace Day One”. It could be used to drive discussion about shifting to a Modern Workplace.

[Edit] Vlog: Icebreaker Bot idea - https://youtu.be/dJqUypvt0v0

Microsoft

Thanks @Darrell Webster! That's a wonderful idea. and yes, it can be used in org-wide teams. I'd recommend following a few best practices (e.g. announcing the bot and letting people opt in) shared here so team members have context coming in.

Occasional Contributor

Would also be great to build on darrels idea and other in his video blog of actually an adoption bot..  You know.. Suggesting people have these meet ups over video, in a channel, sharing some files or even record ing and transcribing... Using teams outside of native IM is one of the hardest barriers..  Especially if that organisation has lots of other "services" they use and old habits..  

Microsoft

@Rob Quickenden - that's an interesting perspective. I hear you. We heard similar feedback from folks who had team members who were heavy users of email/occasional chat users. I can see that as a potential feature where the bot sends both an email and a chat message for pair ups which could reduce the inertia to set something up. Please post your ideas on the GitHub repo here. We have a cool list of 'taking it further' ideas that our community can help prioritize and develop :)

Frequent Visitor

Any chance you'll publish this as a bot in the apps "store" so folks can use it without involving our IT team? I love the idea of it, but there is somewhere between zero and no chance that I'll get our guys to implement it.

Microsoft

@Timothy Reilly , thanks for leaving a note. I'm curious as to why you say there is zero chance? We've invested a lot of thinking in making it really simple for IT admins to deploy it along with detailed documentation around data, security, solution architecture etc. 

 

Having said that, I think your idea is neat. I too want to see it in the app store. I'd recommend sharing your idea here our User Voice channel which influences are roadmap greatly. :) 

Frequent Visitor

"Too many other priorities, we haven't defined our Teams strategy yet, especially related to 3rd party apps and bots, I don't understand why anyone would want to use this, etc." 

It took a year of pestering them to get them to enable Teams for us, so we could finally kill Basecamp (almost dead - we just need a real calendar option), get people to stop spawning Trello boards (Planner is almost there), and keep people from spinning up lots of rogue Slack accounts. 

 

I'll make the request to them, as I agree the documentation looks pretty easy, but I've been down this road before. Figured I'd ask whether a generic version was going to be released as a published bot before banging my head against the wall, again.

Microsoft

Thanks again @Timothy Reilly, I hope it works this time! Keep us posted.

Contributor

What a great idea - love it! In the past I have used external third party applications that do this but knowing now that it can be developed internally for Teams changes things.  Thanks for sharing, I'm going to share this to my colleagues to see what we can do :)

Microsoft

@Helen Blunden  - thanks so much for your kind words. Glad to see you have more options to choose from now. We've invested a lot in making the documentation and deployment super easy and automated for you to follow. Let me know if you need any help as you deploy it within your organization. 

One more thing, I'm curious what third party applications you have used?

Occasional Contributor

I really like the ideas behind this bot. Followed the great vid of Tom Morgan, but doesn't work yet.

The logic app runs without errors, but I don't see anything happening in my Team(s).
When I chat to the bot (I know, not what's meant to be) it responds with a card with the Take a tour button only.

Any tips?

 

Kind regards,

Maurits

 

 

Contributor

@BusyIntelligence  Im having the same experience.  I set up a new team, Im the owner...I installed Icebreaker and I received the Hi There card from Icebreaker with Take a Tour...but nothing else has happened.   Any pointers on what to check?

Microsoft

Hey (@BusyIntelligence) Maurits and (@David Christensen) David, thanks so much for giving Icebreaker a try and sharing your notes here. The pair ups happen Monday 10AM pacific... so your team members should get notifications then. Drop me a note at nidhi.shandilya@microsoft.com and I'll make sure there aren't any issues with your installation.

Occasional Contributor

Hi @NidhiShandilya , thanks for you reply. I'll wait to see what happens next Monday, but have doubts.

I've changed the schedule of the Logicapp so that it ran a couple of times this afternoon. I've also started the app manually.

The app seems to run fine, completes succesfully everytime.

Shouldn't that do something within Teams?

 

BTW My resourcegroup is located in Europe - West. Should that work?

Microsoft

@BusyIntelligence, yes it should and West Europe is fine too. Let me send you an IM and we'll go from there.

This sounds great. I have to echo @Timothy Reilly though. We've seen Teams adoption in our org precisely because it didn't need much from our Admins. As a fast growing company those Admins already have lots of business critical work allocated to them. Don't get me wrong I love the concept I just need to be able to enable it without needing to call on an Admin.

Senior Member

Thanks for a great tool! This has created quite a buzz in the office. Couple of comments / questions:

 - The LogicApp runs at 10am every Monday, but nothing seems to happen. If I go into the Logic App and manually trigger it, then everything works and messages are sent.

 - We are now in week 2, and it seems like the bot is not considering previous meet-ups in the scheduling algorithm. I.e. in week 1 and 2, we have the same team members paired up. Is this something the bot can / should do?

 

Will continue to test and provide feedback.

 

Ruan

Microsoft

@Ruan Viljoen thanks so much for sharing your feedback! so glad to know the idea is resonating in your company. Let me send you a message and I'd be happy to unblock you here. 

Visitor

I really want to give Icebreaker a try with my (now Covid isolated) team, but can’t find the bot. 

Is it still available, and if so, is it possible it’s been disabled by our central IT team?

Occasional Contributor

Hi @Zedmonds The bot is not installed by default. You (or your IT dept) have to install the App Template which can be found on GitHub:
https://github.com/OfficeDev/microsoft-teams-icebreaker-app

 

Good luck!

Visitor

Hi @NidhiShandilya , we have icebreaker installed on our teams but it is matching some up again with the same people from their first and second weeks. I got matched with the same person from last week. 

 

Any advice to fix this or how to troubleshoot? 

 

Thanks. 

Visitor

Hi all,
Within our organization, we use this bot since the COVID-19 outbreak and a normal 'coffee machine conversation' is become more and more rare, due to default working from home. We received lots of positive feedback, although there are a few topics that might be nice to improve:
1. If you're Out of Office / on holiday, you'll manually need to pause the IceBreaker bot (which only a few will do). It would be nice if Out-of-Office messages/availability in the upcoming week is taken into account before matching magic happens
2. We have a group of +/- 40 people and we did about 12 rounds of matching (once a week). Randomly I'm linked to the same person for the 4th time. Maybe it really is that random and chances are very low, but considering the exclusion of x previous conversation matches might be a valuable feature

Occasional Visitor

Hello!

 

Love this. A few questions:

- Is it possible to customize how often the bot connects people? 

- Is it possible to have reminders for those already matched?
- Is it possible to have a link where people can sign up for this option so they can opt-in/out?

 

Thank you

Microsoft

Hi Team,

I have just deployed Icebreaker Bot and I can't wait to try it out. Just a quick question - is it possible do alter the code to define specific pairing rules? For instance one does not get paired up with their direct managers and stuff like this? Thanks!

Occasional Visitor

Hi, we just configured Icebreaker! My question is, if pairing is paused a user, is the user the only one allowed to unpause themselves or can an admin do it for them? In Azure portal, is there a way to see who has paused their matches? I was alerted by two people that they did not receive their pairing this week. They accidently paused their pairings last week and forgot all about it. 

Thanks in advance.

 

Regular Visitor

Is it possible to change the language of the messages within icebreaker?

 

Occasional Visitor

I recently started testing this out with our company. Is there a way to configure the match date/time/frequency for different channels? Lets say for one channel I would like it to match once a week, but another I would like it once every two weeks. Is that possible? Thank you!

Senior Member

Would it be possible to have "pairings" of more than just 2 people? Like small groups of 3-4 would be great. I didn't see this as one of the possible 'Taking it further' modifications on the GitHub site.

Occasional Visitor

@NidhiShandilya love this idea!

 

We used Donut for Slack in my last company, and everyone loved in. Really keen to find an equivalent for my new organisation using Teams. From both my own experience and from speaking to others, 3 is the ideal number of people for an informal virtual coffee break (as 2 can be a bit intense!) - as @amynyc says above, would it be possible to enable this in the Icebreaker Bot?

Occasional Visitor

We deployed icebreaker and like it a lot.

2 questions,

1. Is there a way to update the message it sends to users while creating a match

2. Can we select 2 days per week instead of just 1 day per week.

 

Thanks.

Senior Member

@saritacms The answer to your question #2 is Yes, you can change the frequency in the Logic App Designer in the icebreaker logic app in Azure. IIRC steps are covered in one of the blog entries related to the setup video.

 

Senior Member

I'd like to second the request from @EarthNetworks  -- we have assigned the Icebreaker app to multiple Teams, and they want different times and frequencies. Especially because we have some Teams in GMT and some in the US.

 

If anyone knows how to implement this, please chime in. Is it possible to create multiple instances of the app, and assign each to a different Team, maybe?

Contributor

I would like to hear from those who have installed it:

  • What level of expertise what needed in order do deploy it in Azure and installed it TEAMS?
  • How long did it take you to implement it from start to general use?
  • How much is it costing you to maintain and continue a single use case (in a TEAM) on a monthly basis?

Thank you!

 

@Cara_Hart_AMH @saritacms @IRivera @brmoreir @oit_victoria @bnawijn @Ruan Viljoen 

Senior Member

Hi @Lisa Stebbins,

 

Some answers to your questions:

 - The deployment is well documented and very straight forward. Any Azure / Office 365 admin should be able to easily deploy this. Correct level of access is needed to the tenant to create the services.

 - I did the deployment over a couple of hours in between meetings and rolled out to test group same day.

 - We have it deployed to a single team and the cost breakdown per month is as follow:

 
Senior Member

Icebreaker.png

Senior Member

One point to note is that we adjusted the Cosmos RUs down to save some cost.

Hope this helps! Sorry for the multiple replies, but the post did not allow the inline image.

 

Senior Member

Hi @Lisa Stebbins 

I am an Azure admin. The documentation is pretty good, but follow it closely, and I also recommend the video walkthrough. It took me two times to get it working the first time, because I mixed up which long ID goes where. We wanted a second instance, so we could have two different schedules, and it took me three times to get the second one going (first time, I tried to have a reserved character in the new name, and it didn't fail until the middle; second time, I figured out later, was because there was a timeout while it was fetching the info from GitHub). We now have two running and the users are happy. We haven't been running it long enough to know much about the costs.

Occasional Visitor

Hello,

Anyone knows, why bot is not sending any welcome message when added to Teams team? Also, how to check if it's working? I have default settings, no errors in Azure, but bot is not pairing anyone...

Occasional Visitor

Hello @Lisa Stebbins , 

 

I also had some issues with setting up with the icebreaker bot. Our team also felt like there should be a solution that doesn't require someone who's technically savvy to set it up. That's why we're in the process of building something very similar to the ice breaker bot that you can download right from the teams store. We called it Coffee Pals because we figured most people meet over coffee. If you think you would benifit from it, we have an early access form you can fill out.

Occasional Contributor

@NidhiShandilya   -

 

1. where exactly can we look for the logs on which users have paused this ?

2. How can an Admin pause it company wide if needed - is it just removing reoccurrence details or more than that ?

Occasional Visitor

great tool! Does it also work when the team members are guests ? (in a member organisation). If you, would be great in these Covid times !
thanks!

Occasional Visitor

Hey, can anyone advise how to stop duplicate matches taking place and also are there any reporting features which can give insight into how many people paused etc.  Thanks

 

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‎Jan 26 2021 10:39 AM
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