Everything to know about meeting check-ins - The what, why and how.
If you keep hearing about a meeting check-in, and wonder why it’s become so popular in progressive organisations, let me share why this simple meeting tool goes beyond just being a fun ice breaker, and how it will help you to build a better workplace culture.
What is a meeting check-in?
A meeting check-in is an icebreaker style question at the start of a meeting. It’s a structured way to signal the start of a meeting or workshop, and serves as a strong practice to help participants become fully present for the meeting ahead. It’s a moment to briefly step away from the day-to-day tasks and focus on building interpersonal relationships within the team.
As a coach and facilitator, a meeting check-in is something I use religiously to begin my sessions, and it’s a practice many of my clients have adopted with their own teams.
At face value a meeting check-in can feel a little silly, I’ve heard plenty of critics who’ve said “ can’t we just get on with the meeting” – but a meeting check-in isn’t just a fun icebreaker, they play an important part in building psychological safety, and creating greater inclusion.
While asking a question at the start of a meeting may seem a frivolous waste of everyone’s time, it’s truly the opposite. And if we want to run better meetings where everyone participates, then a meeting check-in is a tool that we should all be leaning on.
Here are six reasons why a meeting check-in should be part of your culture, and at the top of every meeting agenda.
Why do a meeting check-in?
1) It allows everyone to land
Whether we’re rushing from one meeting to the next, or rushing through the door from the morning commute; sometimes when we arrive for a meeting we can feel like we’ve just entered via a storm of chaos. Frantic, frazzled, and unfocussed, we’re often starting meetings on the back foot. Our brain hasn’t caught up with our body.
A meeting check-in gives everyone a moment to just land in the session and take a breath. You could even say it’s a mindful moment to get present and feel like you’ve arrived.
2) It sets the tone of the meeting
The check-in you choose can help to influence the energy and tone of the meeting. If this is going to be a reflective type of meeting, then a reflective question to ask the team feels relevant. If you want to get some positive energy and lift the mood, again, choosing a question or check-in that evokes good emotions will kick it off to a great start.
As the facilitator, or the one leading the meeting, it’s a good idea to become conscious of the type of check-in you wish to create. After all, we don’t want something that feels miles away from what you’re trying to achieve from the session.
3) It’s a psychological safety game-changer
Psychological safety is a vital element in company culture in order for team members to feel safe to contribute. It has been well researched by Dr Amy Edmondson in her book “The Fearless Organisation.” When psychological safety is high, we feel we can speak out and voice our concerns without fear of being blamed, shamed or embarrassed. If we have no psychological safety, we have no way of hearing from others. Which is both dangerous for business and team collaboration.
Meeting check-ins help to strengthen psychological safety by giving people a safe space to speak out. It enables people to connect far more deeply with their colleagues, and create a greater awareness of what’s going on for the people around them. When we hear even a small personal detail about each other we begin to increase our levels of trust and connection, and drop the armour of titles or positions.
4) It creates greater understanding
Ever had one of those meetings where you thought someone was a bit off. Perhaps they seemed distracted or annoyed. You might even start overthinking their behaviour and feel that you’ve done something wrong. The truth is, we don’t know what’s going on for people until we ask.
Many times a meeting check-in helps us to understand someone else, and provides us with greater insight into how they are going to contribute to the meeting. For example, someone looking a bit tired and distracted, they might share that they’re feeling tired because their toddler kept them up all night. The meeting participants then all become much more empathetic and supportive.
We’re human, we make judgments until we have the information. This doesn’t mean we need all the details of how someone is feeling, or their whole life story. After all, this is a check-in, they should move swiftly.
5) It’s set the expectation of inclusivity
Poor meeting culture often sees one person holding the airtime. This is common if they’re either in a position of power, or are quite extroverted and confident in speaking in front of people. However, what we really want in meetings or workshop sessions is for everyone to have the chance to speak so we hear from the collective, not just the few.
A meeting check-in creates the expectation of inclusivity, and that everyone’s voice is valued. The turn taking practice of the check-in helps to support even the most introverted people have a moment where they can speak. It also supports the inclusion of minority groups who are so often interrupted during meetings, or not given enough time to speak.
6) It can be a vital mental health detector
Like I said earlier, there are so many check-in questions and styles you can choose from. You really are spoilt for choice. However, one that can be incredible in keeping the awareness high around stress and well-being, is getting people to rate how they’re feeling on a scale.
When this is done as part of a weekly team check-in you can soon notice any trends. For example, if team members are putting their numbers on the high end of feeling stressed. From this information you can then create dialogue around what needs to change, addressing the issue quicker than it going completely unnoticed.
How to run a meeting check-in
Now you know why to start adding meeting check-ins to your company culture, it’s time to give it a practice.
Remember, this will feel a little awkward to begin with, and even strange. But you are building a new habit and experimenting with something different. Be compassionate towards yourself and others as you embark on trying this. I’ve also included a few considerations below which will answer the trepidation you might feel around beginning these.
The practice is quite simple.
1 – Pick a check-in question
(I’ve listed some tools and inspiration below.)
2 – Everyone goes around the room in turn answering the question
(An alternative here is to do it pop corn style, where people can answer at random. But as a facilitator ensure this doesn’t go off track, or people are missed. If people don’t want to participate, that’s fine.)
Ideally a check-in should only take 10-15 minutes of your meeting time. See, it’s not even that much time in the grand scheme of things, but has such a profound impact. It’s almost a question of – why wouldn’t you try them?
Things to be aware of;
Although a meeting check-in is a simple practice, it doesn’t make it less daunting if you’re trying this for the first time. People will begin to familiarise themselves with the process, and even enjoy it! – I certainly really enjoy a good check-in session to get teams feeling ready and grounded.
Before you get into practice mode here are a few considerations.
How well does everyone know each other?
If the team are all well acquainted with each other, then picking a check-in will be much easier as you can go with what you feel in supporting both the team and the agenda of the meeting or session. You’ll intuitively know which type of check-in will land best.
If you are facilitating or supporting people who have never met before then you may wish to consider a check-in that isn’t overly personal, but still enables people to feel like they can share a personal detail. However, depending on the circumstance or situation, a personal check-in may be just what’s needed.
As you can tell, there’s no hard or fast rules with a check-in, you really do just have to lean in to what you feel will be effective for the given situation.
How many people will be attending the meeting?
For obvious reasons, running a vocal meeting check-in isn’t possible for large groups. However, this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to still do a check-in. It’s simply that people won’t be able to voice their response. Instead, you can use tools and methods where people can share their check-in to the group. For example, placing a sticky note, or doing a digital check in where people vote or enter a phrase of how they’re feeling.
This will help you to get a sense of the energy and emotions that exist within the group before you conduct the meeting.
People who just aren’t into it.
It’s true, some people will just not be into a check-in. And that’s absolutely fine. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally, or force people to participate. They will have their reasons, and you never know, once they see others taking part they might join in next time.
If people are completely new to this, you might want to share this blog with them so that they understand why you want to try it.
Change it up regularly.
As these check-ins help to get people focussed and connected, it’s good not to keep repeating the same check-in. You want to aim to keep encouraging people to connect, and adjusting the check-in for the energy or purpose of the meeting. Besides, teams get very creative with their check-ins. It’s a great opportunity to have some fun!
You could even rotate the responsibility of bringing a check-in question. With team members rotating ideas to keep it fun and fresh.
Tools for meeting check-ins
Now you’re well acquainted with the why and how, here are some tools to help you on your way.
BestSelf Icebreaker cards – Ideal for in-person meetings, or larger group settings. This deck of fun cards is also broken up by category so you can change things up easily.
Sociocracy meeting cards – A physical deck of cards designed specifically for both meeting check-ins and check-outs.
TSCheck-In ideas generator – A simple online tool which gives random ideas for check-in questions.
Daresay check-in generator – Another great online tool to help provide question ideas.
Mentimeter – Mentimeter has the ability for you to use a check-in question with larger groups. They answer the question via a QR code. The results are then shown in a word cloud. Great for identifying the general feelings or experiences of a large group.
Miro Board – Miro board is my go to tool for most things, but even more so for online sessions with remote teams. There are many great, and super creative check-ins which you can use.
Of course, just as you check-in, you can do a check-out. This can help to close the session and make everyone feel like it has come to an end so that they can move on mindfully.
Regularly reflect and adapt on your check-ins. Rather than see this as just another culture trend, truly consider why you would like to try this with your team or organisation, and the benefits you hope to see.
Meeting check-ins, when done well, are more than just a preliminary item on the agenda; they are a powerful tool for building a cohesive, supportive, and high-performing team. By incorporating these tips into your meeting routine, you can transform the dynamics of your team meetings, enhance team culture, and drive better collaboration and outcomes.