Start your meetings with a check-in
It’s a standard way to start a meeting in many organisations – the check-in. It works like this: every member has about a minute to say how they are and what’s going on in their lives.
Why is it a good idea? Well, it makes our teams stronger and better. It allows all voices to be heard, which makes it easier for people to speak up later in the meeting. It builds personal connection because it allows for sharing of information (feelings, situations and thoughts) that people might not necessarily share in meetings. That creates trust. And we know that trust is the foundation of a strong performing team.
So, how do you run a good check-in? Here are a couple of ideas:
- Ask everyone to check in and provide a structure. It could be answering how you are feeling physically, or sharing something important that happened recently, or what they are looking forward to.
- Don’t make things too personal – so don’t start with asking people to share their deepest darkest fears… That psychological safety is critical.
- Limit the time to about 1 – 2 minutes. You don’t have to set a timer (that could be very off-putting) but if you find people going over time, you can sit forward in your chair to signal that time is running out. You should also keep reminding people of the time limit.
- Thank every person at the end of the check in. If the team is comfortable, they can all thank that person at the same time. It should sound something like “And the team says… thanks for checking in”.
- As the leader, you should go first, especially if it is the first time you’re trying it. Show your own vulnerability and that will lead the others in the group to open up.
- Very important: don’t allow interruptions during the check-in. Respect every person by listening intently and asking others not to interrupt. If you don’t, the check-in could degenerate into a “free for all” where no-one feels heard.
What happens if people don’t want to check in? Remember that it’s always their choice. I found myself in a situation where a team member just flatly refused to check in, deriding it as “fluffy emotional stuff”. We allowed him not to, because it is a personal choice. However, he didn’t last long in the organisation and resigned within 3 months. Maybe it’s not for everyone.
Recently, in a virtual meeting, the accountant in the team also refused to check in. He felt uncomfortable because he was probably an introvert and not used to sharing. Again, it is his choice. Never force anyone to check in.
Where have I seen this work? The leadership team I was in a couple of years ago went through a restructure and people were stressed and anxious. During one check in a colleague started crying saying that she doesn’t want to check in. We kept quiet, offered her a tissue and a hug and just sat with the emotion (uncomfortable as it was) to allow her the time to get her emotions under control. When she was finally ready to talk, she managed to share the abuse that she had received from subordinates who themselves were stressed and anxious. This allowed the team to talk about the issue, show their support and help her through it. Without the check in the issue might never have been raised.
At the end of the meeting you can use a check-out to again allow everyone’s voices to be heard. You can invite people to check out with one word, or a sentence on how they’re feeling now, or share the main insight and learning that they received from the meeting.