How to check in with your team

The importance of building a habit of effective team check-ins

February 15, 2022Yellow Squiggle

As a manager, finding the right balance between knowing what’s going on with your team and being overbearing can be tricky.

Staying on top of the work means you’re better equipped to help with blockers and address issues before they spin into something larger. And knowing what’s going on with your team, in or outside of work, can help build empathy and understanding, so you can better support them as a manager.

But what about (the dreaded) micromanagement? Asking for updates too regularly can come across as overbearing, and last-minute requests for status reports can pull people out of focus and into overwhelm.

So how do you get it right?

Team check-ins don't equal micromanagement. Checking in with your team on a regular basis can improve team dynamics, help folks be more productive, boost engagement (by 3x according to Gallup) and decrease turnover.

In this article, we’ll discuss why it’s important to check in with your team, what an effective check-in looks like, and how to build a habit around it.

What does a “check-in” look like?

The topics: What should you cover?

Different teams do this differently (here’s inspiration from three teams). On the most basic level, as a manager, you’ve got two things that are important to check in on with your team on a regular basis:

  1. The status of their work
  2. How everyone’s doing

Let’s take a look at why these two things matter.

Checking in on the status of your team's work

Why:

  • Helps you be a better manager, unblocking your reports when they need it or connecting them with folks working on similar initiatives for collaboration
  • Gives you (and everyone else on the team) a clear line of sight into projects so you can better allocate focus and resources
  • Makes it possible to flag issues and adjust timelines and plans early on
  • Gives you fuel to champion your team and celebrate people’s accomplishments, big and small
  • Helps you keep tabs on progress over time, which comes in handy for upward reporting and reviews

Questions to ask:

  • What did you accomplish yesterday? Where are you focused today?
  • What are your top 3 priorities this week? How can I help you work towards them?
  • What are you blocked on? Any issues to flag?
  • Is there anything you need feedback on?

Checking in on how everyone's doing

Why:

  • Helps build understanding and empathy, which allows you to better support everyone on the team
  • Builds a culture of psychological safety, where folks feel comfortable trying new things and taking risks
  • Improves team culture and camaraderie by helping everyone get to know each other better
  • Promotes a healthy work-life balance by encouraging folks to recognize how they’re feeling and whether they’re burnt out
  • Gives people permission to show up to work as their full selves

Questions to ask:

  • How are you feeling today? (You can use red/yellow/green or emojis to make it a little easier for folks to share.)
  • What’s on your mind outside of work?
  • What’s something you’re looking forward to or dreading this week?

A good check-in mixes the tangible (I accomplished X) with the less tangible (I’m feeling Y) because, without both, you’re not getting the full story behind the work.

Things outside of work impact our ability to perform at work — that’s something good managers understand and account for. Think of it this way: If someone on your team is feeling exhausted because they were up all night with a sick kid, it makes sense that they’d be less productive than usual. Without the proper context, a manager might just see decreased output and wonder if that employee is feeling disengaged or if there’s another issue going on with the project. Communicating clearly about both project outcomes and personal feelings helps you get a full picture about why people operate the way they do and equips you to better support them and make adjustments along the way.

The format: Async (written) or sync (real-time)?

Write check-ins (that happen asynchronously) and check-in meetings both have benefits, and they often work best in combination with one another. So what’s the best way to determine which check-in style to use when?

Here’s a good way to think about it:

  • Are you already aligned?: How much shared understanding and alignment do you already have? Async check-ins work well when you’re already on the same page (or could easily get there by reviewing an attached doc and exchanging some quick comments back and forth). If you’re trying to make a decision together or understand nuance as a group, a check-in meeting is the way to go.
  • Who’s doing the talking?: Will one person be “talking at” everyone else for most of the time? Or will the conversation be more dynamic, like a feedback session or brainstorm? If updates are one-sided (I accomplished X, I’m focused on Y), async check-ins are your best bet. If feedback and collaboration is required, go with a check in meeting.
  • Are there topics you want to go deep on?: Written check-ins work well for an “at-a-glance” view of what’s on your teams’ mind — but for many things, you’ll want to have a follow up discussion to go deeper. For instance, someone might flag an issue in a written check-in that prompts a larger discussion in a check-in meeting.

Example: How to combine written and in-person check-ins

Monday and Wednesday: Written check-ins

  • What progress have you made since the last check-in?
  • What are you working on next? Share your top 3 priorities.
  • How do you feel today? Share using a color and emoji.

Pro-tip: Sharing feelings with your teammates might feel weird or uncomfortable at first if it’s not something you’re used to doing. To make it a little easier for folks to open up, consider using a simple combination of a color and emoji. It gives folks an avenue to share that can feel safer than words.

Try it with Range

Friday: Check-in meeting (30 minutes)

  • Quick round-robin on how everyone’s doing (5 min)
  • Triage or troubleshoot the week’s unresolved flags or blockers (5 min)
  • Go deep on any big topics requiring further discussion (10 min)
  • Open time for follow-up questions and other impromptu topics that come up (5 min)
  • Team building question (5 min)

Pro tip: To get the most out of your check-in meeting, it’s important to pull in the context you’ve gained from written updates throughout the week. Range makes it easy to build your agenda around the topics, flags, and blockers your team has surfaced throughout the week, facilitate a conversation about them, and provide everyone shared context.

Run a check-in meeting with Range

The power of habit

Is there anything more annoying than being asked to cobble together a project update or slide deck on a moment's notice? We’ve all been there. Ad hoc, surprise asks pull us out of focus and fuel feelings of frustration and overwhelm.

(Plus, an update that you throw together right before the meeting will never be as comprehensive or well thought out as one you’ve had adequate time to prep and plan for.)

Whether in-person or in writing, check-ins work best when you build a habit around them so that people know what to expect and can plan around it. When your team starts checking in on a regular cadence, they’ll get more and more practice sharing their work — meaning their written updates will become more consistent and you’ll get the right information when you need it.

Start building your team's check-in habit today

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Team Check-Ins: Everything you need to know
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