Here's a method I've used for many years.
Don't think of it as just a social thing to do. It improves the participation and the thinking and learning. It's especially valuable if people haven't worked closely together before.
As they arrive, introduce them to a partner.
Ask them to interview each other so that they can introduce their partner to the rest of the group. It's important to suggest a line of enquiry: 'Ask your partner about her role. Ask what she would most like to get out of the meeting/workshop.' Even if they work together, suggest, 'What would make the meeting/workshop especially useful for you?'.
Ask them to find something surprising that their partner would be happy to share with the group. Suggest it might be a hobby or travel or they'll worry that you want them to be intrusive. (I even add an example, 'I enjoy visiting France.)
Do it well and instead of awkward silences, they'll launch into bonding conversations and you'll have to stop them to get the meeting or workshop underway.