Do you ever find yourself trying to mind-read people in a meeting? Perhaps someone who is usually lively and responsive is being a bit mono-syllabic? Or perhaps you're feeling under the weather today and you just want to lie low.

There are all sorts of dynamics that lie beneath the surface in meetings, and it can be healthy to bring them to light before the meeting starts.

We’ve started using a very simple system of 'Checking in' for each of our meetings. By taking the plunge and doing it, we’ve discovered that the process has unexpected benefits, including helping people feel a stronger sense of investment in the process.

How to do a 'Check in':

  1. If you decide to introduce 'Checking in' into your company’s meetings, you’re going to need to commit to it strongly. Don’t back out. What you’re doing is creating behaviour change, so it will feel awkward at first. If possible, find an ally before the meeting who will back up your suggestion to check in when you’re in there.
  2. Once everyone is settled, say something to the effect of “I’d like to ask how everyone is?” or “Let’s do a quick check in, just to see where everyone is at before we start.”
  3. Go round the table and hear everyone’s statement. The emphasis should be on how people are feeling, rather than their opinions about the meeting.
  4. Try to prevent people responding to each other’s statements. Don't comment on people's feelings if you can help it, and certainly don't disagree with anything anyone says. You don’t want to start a discussion.
  5. Done. Once everyone has checked in, it’s time to start your meeting.
  6. You might want to check out at the end of the meeting - we’ve found these to be particularly fruitful in unexpected ways. Try it and see!

Some of the ways we’ve found checking in and checking out useful:

  • It warms people up before the meeting starts, and helps people feel as sense of resolution at the close of the meeting.
  • It gets people out from behind their laptops and marks the beginning of the meeting.
  • It creates a more human connection between the people present.
  • You get interesting insights into where people are at before you start, so you can accommodate each person's mood throughout the meeting.
  • You don’t have to do any guess work to determine how much everyone has investment in the process.
  • It helps people speak more honestly and freely during the meeting.
  • People know that they’re in the right meeting and their input is valued.

How we discovered it:

At Clearleft we like to think we have a healthy culture of banter and pondering. We’re an inquisitive bunch. We love to question everything, particularly during our internal design reviews or our UX club, Content Deli and Front-end pow-wow sessions.

Over the last couple of months we’ve been getting some insightful training organised by Then Somehow with Steve Stark and Pete Burden. They've been helping us analyse our communication style with one another (not the marketing kind of communication, I mean the face-to-face kind).

‘The Check In’ was one of the techniques that came out of this workshop series, and we’re really pleased with the impact it has had on the way we work so far.

We'd love to hear from you if you try the process in your meetings.