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Ever have that feeling at the start of a meeting where your mind just isn’t focused? Maybe you were thinking about an email that just came in, running from a prior meeting and still making sense of that conversation, or worrying about the huge pile of to-dos on your plate.

You’re not alone. It’s not unusual to have other things on your mind which keep you from being fully present in a meeting. But as a result, it’s hard to contribute your best thinking. And when everyone is slightly distracted, meeting conversations can get stuck or old ideas rehashed, and conclusions might never be reached.

One practice that can help set the stage for productive conversation is the check-in. This three-to-five-minute process can make a huge impact on your overall meeting effectiveness.

Check-ins help put distractions aside

Checking-in allows participants to share whatever is on their minds—whether related to the meeting or not. It might sound counter-intuitive to ask people to share information that is irrelevant or off topic. The truth is, if you don’t acknowledge these thoughts or feelings, they will distract you throughout the meeting.

Instead, acknowledge that we all have other things going on by creating the space for everyone to unload what’s on their mind at the moment and then put those thoughts or feelings aside. According to Kristin Cobble in her article How to Start a Meeting,

“Check-ins encourage everyone in the room to focus on the meeting and each other.”

Check-ins get everyone’s voice in the room (& empower introverts)

Whether it’s a face-to-face conversation or a virtual meeting, it is valuable to get everyone’s voice in the room up front. This helps people feel more comfortable speaking up later in the meeting. If you are an introvert like me, who speaks less often than your extroverted peers, you can definitely feel the difference—hearing your own voice in the room empowers the second attempt.

While your colleagues share their thoughts, actively listen to them, make eye contact and acknowledges their presence. These simple non-verbal responses are a powerful (and less time consuming) way to build mutual trust and positive relationships.

Check-ins help take the ‘temperature’ of the room

If you’ve ever facilitated a meeting, you likely have experienced the perils of jumping into a conversation without understanding where everyone is at. Check-ins give you a quick assessment of the emotions and thoughts in the room. This helps you adjust the way you facilitate the meeting so you can engage people in the conversation right from the start and make the most of your time together.

Here are some tips to help you apply this meeting best practice.

Tip #1: Start with a question

A question opens the door for responses. And you may be surprised that people naturally want to respond when asked. Here are some common questions:

  • Before we get started with the agenda, what’s on everyone’s mind?
  • What do you want to mentally put aside so that you can focus on this conversation?
  • What’s the one word that can best describe your feeling at this moment?
  • How’s everyone doing?

Sometimes it’s easier to introduce the check-in practice by using questions that focus more on the meeting content.

  • What is one thing you hope to accomplish in this meeting today?
  • What questions do you think need to be addressed in this meeting?
  • What did you find helpful from our last meeting that you would like to continue doing today?

Tip #2: Add check-in to the agenda

Demonstrate the importance of a check-in by listing it as the first item on the agenda. Generally, allocating 5 minutes will suffice, although it can be faster or slower depending on the number of participants. This makes checking-in an official step in the meeting and conveys that everyone should take it seriously.

Tip #3: Role model the behavior

Starting a meeting with a check-in might be unfamiliar in your organization. In some cultures, it can be seen touchy-feely or as a waste of time. Don’t expect everyone on your team to embrace this practice on the first try. If you are the team leader, you can set the tone by modeling good check-in behavior. Be patient, give people time to get comfortable with the check-in process and soon others will be first to share their thoughts.

As Suchamn and Williamson put it in their 2007 paper Principles and Practices of Relationship-Centered Meetings,

the check-in step is “an investment in relationship-building with the potential to pay large dividends in efficiency and performance.”

Once checking-in has become a standard aspect of your team meetings, you’ll likely find that not only are your meetings more productive but your team relationships are stronger.

It’s your turn!

This is the second article of our meeting best practices series (check out the first one here). We will continue to share other meeting practices such as ‘how to end a meeting’ in upcoming posts.

But first, I would like to invite you all to share your experience in the comments section below. Do you have great check-in questions? How do you engage meeting participants from the start?

Enjoy this article?

Meeteor’s new book, Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings, is now available on Amazon. Click here to get your copy today.

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Tai

Tai Tsao is driven to help individuals, teams and organizations be more successful with Meeteor through the lens of learning and organizational change.

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  • Dorit Perry

    These are great tips! Tai, I think you are right about the importance of getting everyone’s voice in the room right away to increase the likelihood of everyone continuing to contribute (esp. introverts). I also like to get people to laugh at the start; disarming people with humor is a great way to get people to feel more relaxed and engaged.

    • Tai

      Thanks for sharing, Dorit! Humor is definitely a great way to connect people and make the conversation more enjoyable. I would be curious to learn how a facilitator keeps up the great energy and leverages it throughout the meeting. Any suggestions?

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  • Gyenes Márton

    Hi,
    Can you recommend any practice, tip, how would we use the check-in with huge number of participants. For example there are 20+ people on a meeting, the check-in session would last too long, if everyone answer for one of the above questions, the whole check-in would last more than 10-15 minutes. The other participants become bored after 5 minutes and the check-in turns into counterproductive, unmotivative.

    • Check-ins with more than 8-10 people can definitely become overwhelming and not a useful way to start the meeting. Instead, consider one of the following:
      1. Check-in in pairs or small groups. Ask people to turn to a neighbor and share what’s on their mind. Give everyone 2 minutes (approx 30 – 60 seconds per person) and then ask if anyone wants to share back with the group something meaningful or significant. Allow for 2-3 people to share or limit it to 2 minutes in time.
      2. Do a lightning round robin check in. Ask people to say 1 word about their mood or their day or how they are feeling. This gives you a temperature read of the room.
      3. Ask the group a fun, simple question like: What did you want to be when you were a kid or What’s your favorite book. Answers should be short (5-10 seconds per person), get everyone talking, and help build comeraderie among participants.

      • Gyenes Márton

        Hi, Thanks for the feedback, they sound excellent.

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