Whereas check-ins occupy the threshold of a meeting, check-outs inhabit the other end of your gathering: the exit, the boundary between your meeting and what will follow. When they work well, check-outs serve as a bridge from one to the other, and set group members up for success beyond the meeting.
The conclusion of any meeting has unique dynamics. It is a time of transition and instability for participants. Though they are “there”— physically present in the meeting—participants are beginning to direct their attention toward what’s to come: the next meeting, their other responsibilities, the challenges that await them.
Effective check-outs therefore look backwards or forward. They focus on recognizing insights, affirming personal connections, and preparing for life after the meeting. They also address such questions as:
- What have we learned, accomplished, or committed to here?
- How can we maintain relationships that have changed and perhaps gotten stronger?
- How are we going to apply what we’ve learned beyond this gathering?
As with check-ins, doing a check-out is never required. Though not nearly as crucial to the success of your meeting as check-ins, check-outs enable you to powerfully close a gathering in a way that supports group members and their work.
Check-outs usually follow the same form as check-ins. Each person takes a turn answering the same question. (When time is especially tight, it can also work to ask only 3 to 5 participants to “popcorn” their answers to the selected question.)
Unlike a check-in, in which the leader goes first, with check-outs it is common for the leader to go last and offer a few brief, impactful closing words. When complete, the meeting ends, and people immediately begin a social time. You can feel the shift in energy and focus.
When the primary focus of a meeting is participant-learning (as in a workshop or training session), it is common to leave time for individual reflection and even action planning before the check-out.
Though check-outs are a great final activity, there are other options as well. You might share a concluding story. Or perhaps the meeting sponsor could join to express some final words. One leader I know closes with what she calls “ending on a high note:” She arranges in advance for someone on her team to share with the group a brief success story from their work, after which team members head back to work.
As my colleague Priya Parker urges, what is essential is to not squander the power of a group’s final minutes together by talking about logistics (i.e. tomorrow’s agenda, selecting the next meeting time, deciding who’s bringing the snack, etc.). People disproportionally remember the last few minutes of a meeting. Attend to logistics first, and then close with a check-out or another powerful activity.
A common form of check-out is the “one word” check-out. Participants are each asked to offer one word that in some way captures their experience of the gathering. It’s a brief, useful way to get everyone’s voice in the room before a meeting closes.
That said, the strength of this form can also be its challenge: The brevity of one-word check-outs magnifies groupthink, the normative pressure to conform. If the first six participants offer words like “insightful,” “affirming,” and “grateful,” it’s quite hard for the seventh person to follow that with “frustrating.” Not only is it counter-cultural, but with no time in the meeting left to discuss or explain, it can feel like they are throwing cold water on the proceedings.
You can relieve this potential pressure up front by adding something like this: “Please don’t feel like your word has to be consistent with other peoples’ words. Whatever you want to say—whatever is real for you—is welcome and valuable to us all.” Such an opening is particularly helpful with less mature groups.
Another check-out variation that can be employed when long-term groups are closing for the final time is to use what are called “reverse” questions. With reverse questions, other group members answer the question about the person whose turn it is. So if the question is “Something we have appreciated about each other,” then when it is Dave’s turn, 1 to 3 group members offer something they have appreciated about Dave. When it’s Camila’s turn, 1 to 3 members offer the same about Camila. Repeat that cycle until everyone has had his or her turn.