Starting and ending meetings the right way

The why and the how of Check-ins and Check-outs

Who hasn’t heard of the importance of making a good first impression? And leaving on good terms? Well let’s apply that to meetings!

In a working culture that depends more and more on emails, project management platforms and messaging software, meetings are often the only time people meet face to face. That time is precious, not only for the sake of productivity but more so for the sake of personal relationships.  By using so called check-ins and check-outs you can achieve both of the above, increasing the trust and the bond between members of your team and the likelihood of a productive meeting.

Check-ins and check-outs can be thought of as a warm up and a cool down and are often phrased as questions. Just as you warm up your body before vigorous exercise, you want to warm up your participants for the meeting, invite people into the work and welcome them. And just as you cool down your body after exercising, you will also want to cool down your mind after giving it a workout!

Check-ins are used to gather participants as the first thing you do at the meeting where you ask for and allow all voices to be heard and expressed. It helps those who have a tendency to keep quiet and yes, we are talking about all those introverts out there who need to be encouraged to  speak up.This indicates that the meeting is not only for the person with power, the almighty boss for example, but for everyone attending. Remember that people are also arriving from doing different things. Some just got off another meeting, some are coming back from vacation while others are so enthusiastic that they just can’t wait to dig in. Check-ins bring everyone on to the same page indicating that now we are doing the same thing with the same intention.

Check-outs on the other hand, are the last thing you do at the meeting as way of saying goodbye to each other and the meeting itself, in some way disconnecting from the meeting. It can be very important to give participants that opportunity, especially after difficult meetings like discussing this year’s venue for the Christmas party. Who wants to carry a heavy meeting into the weekend? The answer is no one, I’ll repeat no one. And in case you are reading this at 07:45 am wondering if this is sarcasm or not: it’s not, it can get fierce people!

Though this article focuses on the usage of check-ins and check-outs for meetings they can be applied to all sorts of things; workshops, the beginning and the end of a work week, dinner party, slumber party, first date or whatever comes to mind!

But enough talking, or you know, reading. Let’s try this out! There are couple of elements worth considering when creating a good check-in and check-out questions, such as the time you have and the purpose of the question. The execution is important as well. Follow these instructions and explanations to create the perfect check-in and check-out.

Preparation

Step A – Time

How much time do you have for the check-in or check-out? If you have a short amount of time you can phrase the question as a one word or a one-sentence check-in.

The questions could be the following:

  • With one word, describe how you are feeling at the moment
  • With one word, describe your intention for the week
  • With one sentence, describe what excites you the most about the project right now
  • And because I’m always on the lookout for good ideas and travel buddies: with one sentence, describe your perfect holiday

If you have more time and you don’t have to limit the length of the answers to one word or a sentence, and this sounds obvious but lets state it anyway, you phrase the question differently! 

  • What three things are the most important things to get done in the project at the moment?
  • What are you up to this weekend?
  • If this project was on Tinder how would you describe it and would you swipe left or right?
  • How are you arriving to this meeting and was the highlight of your weekend?

Step B – Purpose

Each check-in and check-out question should have a specific purpose, depending on the intention of the meeting, the mindset of the people who are attending, and if the meeting is about a specific project.

Check-in and check-out questions can encourage personal responses: 

  • How are you feeling this morning?
  • What is your favorite part of the weekend?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • How are you arriving?

Questions that prompt personal responses really support the development of a good group dynamic and gives you a good indication of how people are feeling. Based on that you can make adjustments to the agenda if necessary and use the information when planning next meetings. Keeping to the same check-in question can be a good indicator how the group is developing and opening up to each other by sharing.Just be mindful of the former relationships within the group and how well they know each other. I’ve been in a group where the worst check-in question ever destroyed the group dynamics permanently: What or who do you have prejudice towards? True story! And no, it was not me who asked that question.

Equally relevant questions are questions that directly connected to a project. They can be a good indicator how the individuals are doing and how they see the current status.

  • What is your favorite part of the group work?
  • What challenges do you see at the moment for the project and what solutions?
  • What are you most excited about regarding the project?
  • What is the most important next step for the project?
  • What has been the most exciting part of the workshop?
  • What is your next action step?
  • What is your intention for the meeting today?

Check-out questions are used more to close down a meeting, either getting people’s mind off the topic of the meeting or looking at what the participants experienced during it and reinforcing the positive experience.

  • How are you going to treat yourself for all your hard work?
  • What do you take with you from the meeting?
  • How are you going to leave this work behind you?
  • What are you looking forward to do after the meeting?
  • What part of the workshop will you remember in six months?

I’m also a big fan of questions that push people’s creativity and surprises them:

  • If you were a Disney character, which one would you be?
  • What kind of cloud are you today?
  • If you were an elephant, what would you look like?
  • If you were a superhero, what would your powers be and what would your name be?
  • If you were dessert, which one would you be?

Those kinds of questions bring smile to people faces and surprisingly often they support deeper sharing of personal stuff in comparison when people are asked directly to how they are feeling. It can be easier to describe yourself a stormy cloud instead of saying that you are disappointed and angry. It also supports the development of relationships in the group. All the people who experience themselves as a chocolate cake can definitely bond over that!

Execution

Step One – Circle up

Circles create the best space for sharing in a group where you can see everyone and they can see you. Invite the participants to the check-in or check-out question and to be honest in their answer. Invite someone to start and clarify who will answer go next, whether you are going clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Step Two – Answering

Keep a close track of who has and hasn’t answered, especially if you use the so called popcorn style where individuals answer when they are ready, in no specific order. It is also called the brilliant name pop-when-it’s-hot, best pronounced with a British upper class accent. Be mindful to give everyone the opportunity to answer but be aware that there are instances where people don’t want to share their answer. If that happens just allow them to remain silent. If there is only one person left you can ask if they would like to share or not.

Step Three – Thank you

Thank the participants for sharing. If it’s a check-in move on with the agenda, for example going over an I DO ARRT. If it’s a check-out be sure to make it clear that now the workshop or the meeting is over and you have finished your role as a facilitator.

 

With this in mind, you’ll hopefully build connections and trust within the group you are working with and get the meeting started and ended in the best manner possible.

Stay tuned for more of Kaospilots sweetest tips and tricks!
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