Meetings, meetings, meetings… online or in person, we all know they can be good or bad depending, to a large extent, on the way they are managed. A facilitator, an agenda, a time limit and the etiquettes of politeness and inclusivity – all these things help to make meetings effective and satisfying. But an equally important yet often-neglected factor is the personal, human interaction of checking in and out.
What is this? Think of it as the communal equivalent of “How are you?” and “Mind how you go!” When you meet another person, these are things you would say without thinking, so why should they not be a part of a group welcome/goodbye? I have incorporated check-ins and check-outs as part of meetings, formal or informal, face to face or online consistently for the past three years and now I find it unnatural if they are omitted. Some people might deem them unnecessary, too touch-feely or a distraction, but even sceptics soon come to understand their value and accept them as a critical part of the proceedings. The benefits are self-evidently important and powerful, as we shall see.
But first, how do we go about checking in with individual attendees? I like to keep it simple with “How are you feeling?” or “How has your day been so far today?” or “What are you bringing to this meeting?”, followed by a quirky question or challenge to keep us on our toes, some examples of which are:
- What animal were you when you woke this morning?
- What has got your attention?
- What colour are you today? (Green, orange or red representing your mood as cool, moderate or angry)
- What locally grown food have you eaten in the past week?
- Tell us a secret about yourself.
- Make a noise and a gesture that represents how you are feeling today.
- What three words would your best friends use to describe you, and why?
These work well with meetings up to 10 participants. If you have more people in the meeting you can try:
- Check-ins in pairs or threes. “What brought you here today?”
- A ‘fist to five’ question, such as, “How are you on a scale of 1 to 5 – 1 being not so great and 5 being tiptop?” On the count of three, everyone reveals their number using their fingers.
- One-word answers. For example, to the question, ‘’How do you feel?”, give a one-word response.
- Ask everyone to draw their current state of mind on a piece of paper. Then, on the count of three, everyone shows their drawing at the same time.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” – Voltaire
Also, as when we say goodbye to our friends, we separate with a few words of reassurance and promise, we can use check-outs too. We close a meeting in the same spirit as we started the session, by addressing everyone’s mindset, this time on how the meeting went and confirming an action to take away.
‘How you enter a space and how you leave a space is as important as what happens in the space’ – Emily M Axelrod
By checking in and out with our fellows, we top and tail the proceedings in a naturally kind and caring manner. The benefits that accrue from such humane interaction can be listed.
- A ten-minute check-in at the start of the session replaces the freeform chitchat and small talk that might otherwise occur. The meeting starts on time and has structure from the get-go.
- Psychological Safety. Sharing ‘stuff’ with the rest of the group creates a safe space to deal with difficulties and change ie bad news and new ideas.
- Being Present. Having downloaded ‘stuff’ at the beginning of the meeting allows you to be in the room free of earlier distractions, aiding focus and performance.
- Hearing someone say that they are exhausted, for example, will prevent you from overburdening them with tasks or cause you to keep the meeting brief – or even re-schedule it.
- Hearing everyone’s voice in the check-ins creates the expectation that everyone will contribute to the proceedings – not just the extroverts!
The important thing to bear in mind is that check-ins and check-outs provide spaces where people are listened to. They remind us to walk in others shoes and consider that we are all humans with personal beliefs, mindsets and emotion, all of which influence our actions, at home and at work.