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Getting started with Check-in meetings

Level up your team meetings by running them like this

May 4, 2021

What is a Check-in Meeting?

A check-in meeting is a type of structured team meeting that covers important team metrics and progress, as well as an open agenda where anyone can bring topics for discussion.

Check-in meetings are an effective and efficient way to use synchronous meeting time to keep a team aligned, remove blockers, resolve tactical issues, and move forward.

There are three key parts of a check-in meeting: opening and closing rounds, recurring topics, and a structured agenda (read on for specifics). Additionally, a facilitator keeps the meeting on track, and notes are shared out afterwards.

Key Elements of a Check-in Meeting

The facilitator plays a key role in check-in meetings, described below for each phase of the meeting.

Opening Round

The meeting starts with an opening round — a time to acknowledge how people are doing and give people a chance to speak before diving in. Teams will often do a Stoplight check-in, asking people to share if they’re green, yellow, or red.

Optional prompts:

  • What was a highlight of your weekend? (for Monday morning meetings)
  • What are you looking forward to this week?
  • Additional prompts

Facilitator: Starts the meeting and goes “around the room” (for virtual meetings, use a randomized meeting spinner or the facilitator’s video call order) and calls on each person to check-in with how they’re doing, and any additional prompts.

Recurring Topics

This is the structured and recurring part of the meeting.

To determine what should be revisited each meeting (rather than as-needed), consider the purpose of the meeting. Choose recurring topics that are relevant for everyone in the meeting, and focus on topics that benefit from live discussion or question/answer format. For information that doesn’t require much back and forth, default to sharing asynchronously.

Here are a few examples of recurring topics:

  • Team metrics
  • Project updates
  • Review past meeting actions

Facilitator: Goes through each of the recurring topics, calling on the person who owns that portion of the meeting to share relevant insights.

Agenda-Building

This is the dynamic agenda-building part of the meeting, where everyone has an equal opportunity to bring up something they’d like to discuss. Don’t worry — processing these agenda items will be efficient, and that’s the beauty of these meetings. Adding an agenda item is an opt-out experience, rather than opt-in. Each attendee is called on to add something to the agenda, and they can choose to “Pass” if they don’t have anything to add.

Agenda items are represented with a 1-2 word placeholder. For example, if someone wanted to talk about the plan for quarterly planning to get clarity on decision-making and timeline, they would just say “quarterly planning.”

Facilitator: Goes “around the room,” calling on each person to add an agenda item. Keeps going around the room until no one has any more items.

Agenda Items

For each agenda item, the person who added the item to the list will briefly describe the issue or what they’d like to discuss. It may be something that is quickly resolved (perhaps they just didn’t know who to talk to about something, and they just needed a pointer to the right person), or it could be something that requires some open discussion.

Importantly, each item can only be resolved by the person who brought it up. And once they’ve resolved it, the facilitator moves on to the next agenda item, avoiding a lot of conversation for conversation’s sake around that topic. Since this is such a core part of check-in meetings, here’s a concrete example:

Say Dan brings the agenda item “tech spec,” and I suddenly remember a tech spec that I wrote that no one’s reviewed yet. I better add my own agenda item. If Dan’s “tech spec” item also happens to address mine, great — we can remove my item later. But the time spent on Dan’s item will be solely focused on that one item, not generally the topic of “tech specs.”

Suppose he just wants to know if there’s a consistent place where we store tech specs, and he gets his questions answered. If someone else follows on, saying “Speaking of tech specs, I read something about how we can write better tech specs by using a standardized template,” the facilitator is free to put a stop to that discussion.

Facilitator: Keeps the conversation tightly focused on the agenda item, guiding it to a next action assigned to someone (if a next action is needed). If someone starts to hijack that time with something somewhat related but actually different, the facilitator may say “That sounds like a separate agenda item, would you like to add it to the end of the agenda?”

If the conversation seems aimless, the facilitator may come back to the topic-bringer: “What do you need to resolve this item?” or “Is there a next action we can capture that can move this forward?”

Closing Round

The closing round mirrors the opening round, and is an opportunity for each person to speak, share any reflections on the meeting.

This serves the role of a mini debrief — what went well in the meeting? What could have gone better? It’s a quick and immediate way to get feedback on the meeting structure and facilitation. For example, someone might say “Good meeting and facilitation, though I think we could have spent a little less time on the tech spec discussion and moved some of that offline.”

Facilitator: Calls on each person to share a reflection as part of the closing round, and ends the meeting.

Note on Check-in Meetings

The structure of check-in meetings help create a space that is predictable, inclusive, and that accommodates different ways of communicating and working.

For these meetings to be successful in creating that space, they do require a genuine desire and intention from the team to create an inclusive space for everyone to contribute. Be sure to share this intention with your team, and also make sure that beyond meetings, people feel psychologically safe.

In the absence of psychological safety and a genuine intention for an inclusive culture, you may get shallow opening and closing rounds that feel like a waste of time, people may not bring “real topics” to the meetings, and it may all feel more performative than actually inclusive.

We’ll share more resources on how to debug some of these symptoms, and what to do about them soon.

Additional Resources

Nine years of effective meetings: Lessons learned from Range's VP of Engineering

Check-in Meeting Templates, complete with facilitation notes, to get you started

Harper Reed on Giving Everyone a Voice in Team Meetings

Lead Time Chat Episode 11: Harper Reed

How to run a team meeting

Getting started with Check-in meetings
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