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 expendedcheck-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. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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