The Practice of Check-In: How Voicing and Listening Create Opportunities for Deeper Engagement

by Kari McLeod and Marsha Acker

Check-In Time!

  • What did you learn yesterday?
  • What is something you’re committing to the team today?
  • What do you need from the team today?

These are versions of the questions we ask during the Check-in for the second day of our TeamCatapult Agile Facilitation class and our Agile Facilitation and Coaching Intensive.

We asked it this Tuesday at the start of a Virtual Intensive we are leading for an organization. We met on Zoom and we used a virtual circle to visually connect our participants, our learners.

It was the most moving Check-in I have ever witnessed.

The first participant who checked in bottom-lined her key take-away from the day before. She then committed to being as present as possible for the day. She told us that the events of the previous evening were weighing heavily on her. She said that it was difficult to imagine being at her computer, in training for most of the day. She is concerned for the nation. She then asked for grace and patience from the rest of the class because she was bound to be distracted.

Her openness, her rawness set the tone for the Check-in.

Making Space

How do we as facilitators, coaches, and trainers make space for what is happening in our world while helping participants get as present as possible?

We at TeamCatapult hold the Check-in and Check-out as a sacred space. 

  • It is the way we invite our learners to be present. 
  • It is one of the ways that we create a strong container for our participants to connect and build trust. 
  • It is one of the ways we create safety for them to learn, share, fail, and learn more. 

We have been holding these opening spaces at every meeting and for every class since we started our work. And we have felt that these spaces have been even more important in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Considering  the protests, riots, and the resulting law enforcement and political reactions and responses following George Floyd’s death, it’s clearly even more critical to be attuned to the need for that space.

Opportunities for Deeper Engagement

Going back to the Check-in on Tuesday, our participants held our opening circle, our Check-in, as a sacred space. They were vulnerable. They were as present as they could be. I had tears in my eyes. After everyone had checked in, one of my colleagues paused and acknowledged all of the emotion that was in the space. And then we introduced the agenda.

Bringing Our Whole Selves To Work

In the remote, working environment, we are breaking through the old narratives that there is a “work self” and a “home self.” We now bring our whole selves to work.

Everything that we are watching in our society today, and the personal impact it has on us, comes with us into the workplace. Pretending that it doesn’t or creating artificial barriers prohibits collective intelligence and authentic engagement. It drains people rather than engaging them. 

check-in process during team meetings

Facilitating a Check-In 

Purpose: The concept of Check-In comes from dialogue. Its purpose is to allow everyone a chance to speak. It’s also an opportunity to listen deeply to what others are saying and it allows everyone a period of transition from what they were doing before to connecting to one another and getting present to the work ahead. 

The prompt: 

Have a question or a prompt for Check-in like:

  • What’s your state of mind? 
  • How are you feeling? 
  • What do you want to say to become more present? 
  • What do you want to let go of? 

You can also make the Check-in about the topic of the meeting: 

  • What are you hoping to take away from today? 
  • What are your thoughts about ____. 

The process: 

  • People share, but in no particular order and no need to call on each other.
  • Speak when you are ready. 
  • Really listen to what’s said and not said. 
  • Allow for uninterrupted Check-ins. (Ask the group to allow everyone to speak without comments or cross talk until you’ve heard from everyone.)

When you’ve heard from everyone then open up the conversation to questions and comments. 

This process that we hold as a sacred space is a practice that you can implement right now, at your next meeting. By doing so, you’ll find that the practice of Check-In honors everyone’s voice and develops the skill of listening…both create opportunities for deeper engagement.

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