Book & Inventory by Geoffrey Bellman, Kevin Coray & Kathleen Ryan

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How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results

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Build Bond Among Members by Checking-In

If you are looking for a simple way to begin to build rapport and connections among members of a group, you might want to try this easy-to-use, time-efficient technique. I mentioned in my November 16th post that this can be a particularly useful tool for groups that meet virtually, but it certainly has value for face-to-face groups as well.

If you are unfamiliar with this strategy, here is an overview of how you might utilize a check-in within a task-oriented group that meets regularly.

Purpose: Checking-in gives members a chance to learn things about each other as people and build respect for each other’s interests, talents, and circumstances. It also helps members shift their attention away from the pressures of other responsibilities and become more fully present in a meeting.

When to use: At the beginning of a meeting; for groups that meet regularly you might want to start each meeting with a check-in.

Type of group: Groups of 2-12 people.

Time involved: 10-20 minutes.

What to do: If group members are not familiar with a check-in, explain its purpose. Make sure to state that the idea of a check-in is a brief statement by each member of the group in response to a question. Say that the idea is to hear from everyone without getting into discussions about what anyone might say. Encourage everyone to check-in, but if someone can’t find the words or seems otherwise unable to know what to say, an “I pass” response is perfectly acceptable. Suggest that if someone is really curious about something someone says, then that would be a reason to follow up later, outside of the meeting. With these guidelines in place, propose a framing question. Give a minute for people to reflect on what you’ve asked, then ask someone to start. Go from one person to the next as they are seated. Or people can respond in a random manner, however this typically takes a bit more time. Once everyone, including yourself, has checked-in, thank the group for what’s been said and move on to the second item on your agenda.

Framing questions: There are hundreds of possibilities. Some have to do with the purpose of the group or the focus of a particular meeting. Some have more to do with who people are as people. I usually like to write the question on a flip chart or white board; this seems to help people who are more visually oriented reflect on the question. Here are some possibilities.

  • What’s one thing you hope to get accomplished at today’s meeting?
  • What is one interest of yours that others in this group might not know about?
  • What task or concern would you like to set aside so that you can fully concentrate on our work today?
  • What’s up for you, in your life? What’s one new and interesting thing you’ve been thinking about lately?
  • What’s one thing that brings you energy and joy?
  • What kind of a day have you had so far today?
  • What’s one thing that you’re really proud of that you’d like to share with the group?
  • What aspect of your job brings you the most satisfaction? Given our work so far, what do you feel best about?
  • What do you like best about ____________ (weekends, vacation, the current season, etc.)

These examples illustrate the nature of the framing question—a positive question that asks for a small amount of self-disclosure. The focus of the question encourages people to be brief in their responses. As the group gets more used to the check-in, questions can become a bit more personal or initiate some small level of risk taking. Consider rotating the responsibility for proposing a framing question among members.

Cautions. Watch your time carefully. If check-ins go on too long they can take valuable time away from important agenda items and can seem “touchy-feely.”

Know that depending on what’s going on in someone’s life, a simple question such as, “What kind of a day have you had so far today?” can trigger a longer and more complex or emotional response. When that happens, recognize that it is a sign that someone feels safe enough in the group to communicate in a very real and authentic way. In these cases, follow the general guidelines noted above.

If several members offer similarly serious or emotional statements, at the end of the check-in you might want to ask the group if it would be useful to shift some of your agenda items so you can talk more about people’s worries, fears, or frustrations. In these situations, there is probably some kind of important organizational change or decision that is affecting group members in a personal way. Acknowledging this reality can lead to a very fruitful conversation that can help group members release distracting concerns, so that when you return to your meeting’s agenda they will be more able to pay attention.

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