Great Meetings: Open Warmly

I'm betting this is a familiar scene to many of you:

You arrive to a meeting at work. People straggle in, and everyone's already feeling like time has been lost by the time you start. There's shuffling papers, maybe some technology problems, people turning off their PDA's (or worse, not turning them off!).

So it would seem like a ridiculous waste of time to spend the beginning of the meeting talking about personal things, right? And, if you ask people how they're doing, you might get a lot more than you bargained for. So the safest route is to dive right into the agenda and get things done.

Don't do it! I have a better way! And it's easy! It's called "check-in." 

"Check-in" is a method to:

  • Build context for your meeting
  • Give the introverts at least one chance to say something
  • Be human with each other
  • Actually be MORE productive in your time together

It's not an "icebreaker." And it's most definitely not something that requires people to be uber-transparent, like a most-embarassing-moment story. It goes like this:

  • Tell your group you're going to start with a "check-in." If you get groans, ask them to agree to try it for a month and then evaluate.
  • Each person gets a chance to say "A word or a sentence about what's up for you today."
  • As the facilitator, model brevity. Something like, "I'm happy to be here" or "I had a great weekend with my family." (Notice that people can be as disclosing or non-disclosing as they want.)
  • There's no crosstalk allowed--no comments or questions on others' check-in's, just listening.
  • Go around the circle, and anyone can pass.
  • Start your meeting.

Clearly, this wouldn't be feasible for a 100-person meeting, but I've used it with 40 people and only cut 5 minutes into the agenda.  Spending a few minutes connecting to one another is never a waste of time.  Be brave and try it!