Many organizations use a check-in round before beginning a meeting. Some make this a practice to help people “get grounded”, to leave behind whatever might be tailing them into the room. Others do it because someone once said they should, or because they’ve always done it that way.
How does a check-in round improve the work that needs to be done?
If we are explicit about why this is an important element of our meetings, we will experience smoother, more productive meetings and better outcomes. The check-in round can provide insight into what people value and how they think about things. By making this intention explicit, we can both offer more insightful check-ins, while also increasing our understanding of others.
We can learn a lot about the people in the room, even with a simple question like, “what is your favorite movie,” because that question can reveal something. If we add the request, “tell us one or two reasons why this is your favorite movie,” a tremendous amount of information about values and interests can be garnered. For example: If someone’s favorite film is Raiders of the Lost Ark, we can assume a few things from just knowing that.
On the surface this is an adventure movie, a hero’s journey about the lost Arc of the Covenant, and a new-age myth. Yet if the person also says, “I really love this particular hero’s journey, it was smart and funny to me as a kid in high school when the movie came out, the religious content in the archeological context was a foreign frame to me and one I craved.”
When the question is answered with a short but fuller explanation, it offers people an opportunity and an insight. This is someone who seems to like context for situations. Humor is important, and this might be someone willing to take risks. We can’t know this for sure, but over time as check-ins are attended to by the members of the group, more information can be used to get to know one another more deeply, to build trust, cooperation and collaboration.
If we explicitly teach and ask leaders to pay attention to the responses more closely, we can learn a tremendous amount about one another and about the values that we hold and how we might work best together – to support each other and the gifts and skills that we bring to the group.
“…we can learn a tremendous amount about one another and about the values that we hold and how we might work best together…”
But, but, but…
In most boards there exists one or more individuals who will prove unwilling or unable to take a risk in this process. There may be some who glance off the surface and don’t take the question seriously, spontaneously need to use the restroom just as check-in starts, consistently arrive late, or have an emergency call come in.
There are a few common causes of this kind of behavior:
- Personal Background. From childhood we are learning what is and is not acceptable. Individuals raised in households where emotions, sharing and vulnerability was discouraged are likely to feel some resistance to a deep-dive check-in.
- Trauma. It does not take a huge, painful moment to cause a lasting resistance to openness. Perhaps in high school a teenager shared something personal with a friend, only to have it spread embarrassingly all over campus. Perhaps we opened up only to be shunned later in life. Our natural response will be to avoid allowing that harm to be repeated later in life.
- Culture of Conflict. If an organization has a history of weaponizing vulnerability – or of personal attacks resulting from organizational disagreements – many people may find it difficult to be fully present and open. This will require institutional change – and time – to overcome.
We must understand these as limiting factors. Over time, with intention, the impact can be diminished. If we are careful to use restorative approaches, like the restorative questions, to avoid shaming, those present are better able to witness and engage in the organizational culture shift.
Keys to Making the Shift
The check in round is really a powerful tool for building relationships, for getting to know each other, for learning what matters to our comrades and compatriots. The stronger are relationships are with one another, the stronger our community is, the more can rely on one other in good times and bad.
Setting an intention does not make it happen. There are some things you can do to make the culture shift in your organization to enable more meaningful check-in rounds.
- Start Slowly. Building trust takes time and inviting people to share in small ways will help to strengthen that trust, providing a strong foundation.
- Model the Behavior. Ensure that the leadership of your organization is on-board and willing to engage in the new process. Having a board chair and a couple of individuals willing to go first during check-in will go a long way to making this practice successful.
- Be Explicit About Intention. Have the person running the meeting say one or two sentences about why you are doing a deep-dive check-in and the value the organization places on it.
- Carrot, Not Stick. Few things can be more damaging to culture change than shaming. If someone falls short of expectations, calling them out right after they speak will only lead to resentment, shame, and may introduce a sense of trauma (as mentioned in the earlier section). While lifting up those who share in a vulnerable, open manner – be conscious not to berate those who fall short.
- Acknowledge and Celebrate. Acknowledge how wonderful it is to get to know each other better. Speak with an individual during the next break about something they shared. Thank someone who shared for the first time. These actions encourage vulnerability and full presence in the process.
Let me know in the comments what you find key to successful check-in rounds at meetings.