Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 18;   May 3, 2017: Start the Meeting with a Check-In

Start the Meeting with a Check-In

by

Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed.
A business meeting

Maybe you know that all is well with your team. People are satisfied that progress is good or better than good. You've had some bumps between some team members, but nothing serious. Or maybe you know of some kind of trouble, or that the team is blocked somehow from making further progress. Whatever you think you know, are you certain that everyone has a clear view — and the same clear view — of what's working and what isn't?

Check-ins can surface differences among team or group members about what's happening. A minute per person is probably enough. Check-ins won't catch everything, but they return a lot of value for the time expended.

The goal of check-ins is to gather contributions from everyone, to create a sound basis for moving forward, or to enable the team to later address whatever comes up. Here are five suggestions for conducting effective check-ins.

Introduce check-ins when things are going well
Introducing Check-ins won't catch everything,
but they return a lot of value
for the time expended
check-ins when people feel troubled about the team's progress can create difficulties for adopting the practice. When the team is pressed and facing obstacles, the check-in might feel to some like an unnecessary distraction from more urgent work.
Learning how to conduct check-ins does take some effort. When things are going well, the few minutes spent in checking in are not a cause for worry. Develop the practice in advance of trouble, not during trouble.
Allow a random order of voluntary contributions
Don't go "around the table" (or around the virtual table), requiring everyone to contribute something when called on. Let people choose when and whether to contribute. If someone wants to add something later, after already having contributed, that's fine too.
A loose, relaxed contribution protocol welcomes all contributions, and no contribution is required.
Create a parallel anonymous contribution channel
In face-to-face meetings, collect unsigned, written contributions on slips of paper. Have abstainers submit blanks. For virtual meetings, use technology to create an anonymity channel.
Anonymity enables some people to comment even when commenting feels unsafe, which helps the team surface truth about risky topics.
Use both open and themed check-ins
Vary the format. An open check-in enables people to comment on anything at all. A themed check-in welcomes all comments, but it especially encourages comments related to a theme or question.
Both formats have strengths and weaknesses. An open format is unbiased, but might overlook an important issue. A themed format can focus on a known issue, but might give too little attention to issues not yet surfaced.

One last suggestion enhances psychological safety: ban comments about other people's contributions. A check-in is not a debate. A contribution is the contributor's view. The goal of the check-in is to express our views about the team's progress, and all of us are entitled to our own views. Go to top Top  Next issue: Dealing with Deniable Intimidation  Next Issue

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See also Effective Meetings and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The end of the line for a railroad trackComing May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sAnd on June 6: Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 6.

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