What are Check-ins?

It’s a central challenge of leadership: You have a goal, you’ve gathered a group of people to help realize that goal, and you are striving to create conditions that enable them to do so to the best of their ability.

Yet during your meeting, not enough people participate. Some don’t speak at all. The conversation is less authentic and insightful than you’d like. And you are concerned that your group is performing below its capability.

Check-ins can help.

Check-ins are a simple and deceptively powerful tool for improving collaboration.

Check-ins methodically encourage each person in a group to speak to their peers by responding to a selected question or prompt.

Prompts can be chosen to elicit who participants are (name, title, etc.), how they are feeling, or what they think about an almost limitless range of personal and work-related concerns.

Leaders use check-ins deliberately to help groups develop and perform at their best. Ultimately, check-ins enable people to work effectively together toward any common goal—solving a problem, aligning on a strategy or process, inventing a product, learning together, or just having fun.

Check-ins accomplish this by priming behaviors and attitudes that make collaboration possible, so that people:

  • feel engaged and motivated
  • participate
  • speak honestly
  • listen deeply
  • support one another
  • disagree when necessary
  • share both “air time” and credit
  • feel personally connected to each another
  • trust one another
  • make decisions based upon their collective wisdom
  • enjoy being together

Many leaders use check-ins regularly. Along with creating an agenda and establishing ground rules, check-ins are a standard part of good meeting hygiene. And they often become a ritual in a group’s life.

Check-ins are typically used at the start of a meeting, before turning to the substance. But they can be used at other times as well, including:

  • At the beginning of the day in a multi-day offsite or retreat
  • At the start of an activity, or as the transition from one part of a program to another.
  • At the end of the day, or the end of a program or activity (when they are commonly referred to as “check-outs.”)

Check-ins represent an invitation to group members, and participation in them is almost always voluntary. Because their central purpose is to get everyone speaking, your goal is to design a check-in in which people want to participate. As such, it is quite rare for people to abstain from participating. If group members continue to resist participating in your check-ins, that might be a sign of other issues. See the Frequently Asked Questions section for more information.


Check-ins are one example of a set of practices called “circles,” so-called because these group processes usually take place with participants arranged in a circle. Most broadly, circles are a “form of social technology that enables [people] to tap capacities for wisdom, collective support and creativity.”

In essence, circles are the geometry of human collaboration: when people want to work well together, they tend to gather in something close to a circle.

Circles are a universal and enduring part of the human experience. People around the world have used them for millennia.

Circles can be conducted in many ways to accomplish a range of goals. Leaders use circles to:

a. strengthen relationships and build community
b. assess a group’s understanding of an issue
c. uncover a group’s concerns, hopes and fears
d. set a conversation apart from normal day-to-day interactions
e. creatively address challenges and conflict
f. hold people accountable for misbehavior
h. repair the harm that some group members have done to others
i. welcome or say goodbye to group members

Check-ins are just one of many types of circles.