Selecting a question
Identifying a question that will work for your check-in is crucial. A powerful question engages participants and primes them for collaboration; an inferior one can leave them feeling awkward and unmotivated.
Selecting appropriate questions is both science and art, and it takes practice. Start by considering objective factors like:
- What is the group’s explicit purpose?
- How can the check-in support the goal of this particular meeting?
- How many people are in the group?
- How well do group members know one another?
- How long has it been since the group’s last meeting?
- How often and for how long does this group plan to meet? (Will members be working together just for the day and then going their separate ways, or will they be working intensively together for months?)
- What is the length of this particular meeting, and how much time can be devoted to the check-in?
- What questions have been used in the past?
In addition, less tangible factors should influence the questions you select, factors like:
- How comfortable are group members with one another?
- What level of risk are group members ready for?
- How inspired are group members by their work?
- Would participants benefit more from a check-in focused on their work or on connecting personally?
- Would a lighter, superficial question be best, or a deeper, more intimate one?
- Would it be more useful to focus on past experiences, current reality, or future aspirations?
- Does the group’s energy need to be increased, or focused and contained?
- Are there unspoken concerns that might be inhibiting the group, and could those concerns be addressed through the check-in?
Determining the optimum question usually requires some reflection. Like a painter studying her canvas in order to select the most potent color, spend a few minutes considering the group with which you’re working, guided by the assessment questions above.
Then, scan the Question Archive to see which questions might be a good fit. If you are fortunate enough to be co-facilitating, brainstorm potential questions with a colleague. Finally, after putting the task in the back of your mind—and perhaps even sleeping on it—select a check-in question.
The right questions for the right people at the right time are at the heart of healthy group process.DOROTHY STRACHAN
Don’t obsess about this! A range of questions will serve your group; there isn’t a single “right” selection. Do your preparation, use your intuition, pick a question, and get started. Experience is the best teacher, and the sooner you start conducting check-ins, the sooner you’ll develop confidence.
ERR ON THE SIDE OF RELATIONSHIP BUILDING (…OR “I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE A MUSICIAN TOO!”)
Because meeting leaders are usually focused on getting things done, we leave little room within the agenda to encourage participants to build the kind of relationships that enable them to get things done better: more efficiently, effectively, and enjoyably.
Check-ins fill this gap, helping group members connect personally with one another, so that they can connect better professionally.
Though it’s great to select questions that are substantive and work-related, prioritize “getting personal” when your group is first forming. Pick questions that enable participants to get to know who they each are outside of work: their passions, their past-times, their concerns, and the life experiences that have shaped them.
Such questions encourage people to be open and authentic, and ultimately enable them to bring more of their personal resources—creativity, commitment, insight—to the work you do together.