Ever start a meeting and, pressed for time, you launch right into the agenda only to have the meeting dissolve into discord within the first fifteen minutes? There are certain practices whose pay off is far greater than the time invested in them. A quick check in at the beginning of a meeting or conversation is one of those.
What is a check in? One way of describing it is “structuring unstructured time.” It’s a way for people to briefly connect, and share what’s going on for them as they settle into the conversation. It can also serve as a moment of self-awareness as preparation for fully engaging in what’s ahead: “Here’s what’s going on for me at this moment. What do I want to bring into this conversation and what do I want to leave outside?”
Research has shown that setting aside 6 to 7 minutes at the beginning of a 60 minute meeting to give people a chance to check in results in increased team cohesion and long term performance compared to teams that don’t do this.
That has been my experience over the past decade or more, where check ins are the norm for most meetings and 1:1 conversations I take part in. Knowing at the outset what each team member is carrying (or trying to set aside) can reduce conflict, enhance empathy, and increase self-awareness.
Some simple protocols for effective check ins:
- Each person checks in one after the other with a pause in between.
- Be intentional: Take a moment to check in with yourself before you start talking: What is really on my mind at this moment? How do I actually feel?
- Keep it brief. Even if you are in the midst of the most challenging situation imaginable, find a way to “bottom line.”
- When someone else is checking in, really listen. It’s not the time to prepare your check in. It can sometimes help to ask for a moment of silence before starting so everyone can collect their thoughts.
- Occasional brief acknowledgments are okay but it’s not a time for extensive discussion or dialogue.
- Sometimes it helps to have a specific check in question to focus people or support the meeting purpose.
This very simple practice can be a powerful protocol for enhancing personal mindfulness and social cohesion. Once you get used to doing check ins, you’ll feel incomplete starting a meeting without one.