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'Checking in' at meetings key to less 'checking out' on delivery?

I need to start with some confessional. Not only have I been to many, many, many meetings with too much on the agenda, I was for a long time the person trying to squeeze more on the agenda in my pursuit of "getting things done". In my history as a serial offender I have attempted to wring greater effectiveness out of meetings through everything from standing up, pre-meets with key players, pursuing the balance of 'interactive' with information giving and probably even wondering if a different font would help.

For the last 18 months to 2 years I've been doing things very differently and over the last 6 weeks the slow-burning success of taking an entirely different and at first incredibly uncomfortable approach has really come home to me. At the heart of this is the practice of enabling and allowing people the time at the beginning of a meeting to 'check-in'; to share what's going on for them at that point in their day, week, or life that they unavoidably bring with them into the meeting.

My former, unrehabilitated self would have likely seen in this strategy only the risk for all meetings to become unwieldy, derailed and potentially emotionally fraught. I may even have considered this a tactic that would enable people to detract or distract from the job in hand. Now while I fully acknowledge 'checking-in' remains a practice in development - continuing in some circumstances to take a significant leap of faith - I can fundamentally say I am having happier and more productive meetings that power delivery.

Both my 1to1s and groups small and medium sized are more successful because 'checking-in' is enabling me to:

  1. Offer an overt opportunity for people to ground themselves and 'be present' in the space

  2. Value foremost the quality of the relationships within the meeting and that we leave with

  3. Focus on what really matters, by listening to what is most pressing for those in the room

'Checking-in' can start with a range of questions and is fundamentally allowing people the opportunity to reflect on their current circumstance. This not only enables greater focus on the subject matter of the meeting and what needs to happen, it can also effectively surface missing agenda items. Engaging with what is really going on for people in the room can prevent the oft-occurring 'elephant in the room' scenario; where a meeting results in all the right actions being agreed 'in the room' even though none of them happen because immediately on leaving everyone's attention switches to the more pressing circumstance that was not mentioned.

Allowing at least 10 minutes in an hour meeting for 'checking in', but sometimes up to 20 minutes, can feel scary with a pressing list of demands on precious meeting time but you will soon see evidence that the business of the meeting happens much more effectively. I would highly recommend trying the practice, and some tips if you are new to it:

  • Try starting in a 'safe' environment, working with people you feel comfortable with

  • It takes practice - everyone will have different boundaries on what they want to share

  • In early attempts set a time limit for the 'checking-in' but always make sure everyone who wants to has the same opportunity

  • Encourage active listening; let people take turns to 'check-in' if they choose to and be clear that the purpose is not for others to try and 'fix' or offer solutions

  • But be prepared for what people may share if asked; where it feels someone needs further support try asking, "What can I/we do to support you best?"

I have found the practice encourages greater responsibility for our own state and greater attention to the quality of our relationships and understanding with others, both of which add value not only in the meeting but in working together outside of the meeting - and thus the pursuit of 'making things happen'.

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