Check-ins increase the likelihood that group members will feel comfortable, participate, and collaborate.
As such, if your group has to accomplish anything—regardless of whether it meets regularly or gathers for a single meeting, whether members know one another well or are strangers—check-ins can help.
Given their clear benefits, relative ease of use, and short duration—as well as the cost of not doing them—experienced leaders put a check-in on the agenda for most meetings. It’s their default.
The more useful question, then, is not when to use them, but when not to: when are check-ins neither necessary nor advisable?
A check-in is not the right tool when the purpose of a meeting is exclusively to disseminate information to people who will not interact either during or after the meeting. Informing a large group of new hires about their health plan options, presenting a reading from a novel, orienting 30 prospective college students and their families to their campus visit…these don’t merit the time or energy check-ins require.
Beyond that, the only hard and fast rule is this: use check-ins deliberately. Consider the overall goals of the group, the objectives for the meeting, the group’s stage of development, and logistical constraints. Using your best judgment, conduct a check-in whenever it seems appropriate.
There are no orthodoxies; you never have to do a check-in. Do it only when it will further your goals.
The following are among the circumstances in which it might be wise not to use a check-in:
You Might Not Use a Check-in When:
- A group has met recently and you used a check-in at the previous meeting.
- You will employ another strategy to encourage participants to talk and connect with one another.
- A check-in might feel like a distraction because a pressing issue—an interpersonal conflict or a business crisis, for example—is on group members’ minds (though you might be able to create a check-in question that effectively addresses the issue).
- Time is too short—a 15-minute huddle for a group of 20, for example.
- There are too many people attending the meeting to enable everyone to speak (visit the Frequently Asked Questions page for alternate approaches you can use under these circumstances).
- The setting or acoustics will make it too difficult for group members to hear one another
- A senior leader is joining your meeting, and though it may be tempting to demonstrate your group’s rapport, you want to respect their time.
- You’ve decided that for this group, at this moment, it is not essential to enable participants to feel comfortable, participate, and invest in their endeavor
- You just don’t feel like it.
You never want group members to experience a check-in as uninteresting or irrelevant. That will frustrate them and only inhibit your efforts to engender high-performance. (As explored elsewhere, though minor resistance at the start is to be expected, barring other issues, such opposition dissipates quickly when you create useful check-ins.)
Nowadays we have more and more plane connections, and more and more phone connections, but sometimes it can seem, fewer and fewer human connections.PICO IYER
Flexibility is important too. I attended a remote meeting in which four out of the five members spontaneously discussed a recent national (US) sporting event. Rather than do the planned check-in, the leader skillfully engaged the remaining participant in conversation, and then—everyone having spoken and “checked in”—moved on to the substance of the meeting.
Note that check-ins are particularly essential at the start of a group’s life. As an easy, proven way to gather and orient members, to build psychological safety, and to set norms, they should almost always be on the agenda when groups are first forming.
“Oh, we already know each other.”
Knowing people is a continuum, from being complete strangers on one end, to being intimate with them on the other. Be cautious, therefore, when people at work say that they “already know one another.” It is very likely that they don’t know each other well.
In my experience it’s not uncommon for people who work together to rarely have personal conversations: they don’t know where their colleagues grew up, don’t know who’s in their families, don’t know what their interests are outside of work, etc.
Skipping a check-in simply because people have some familiarity would be a loss for most groups. And even when people do know one another well, check-ins can create energy and enthusiasm, increase learning, and strengthen relationships.