Connection before content: Using the check-in effectively before starting a meeting

Understanding where your teammates are can help improve the outcome

In March 2020, I had the pleasure of facilitating a value engineering workshop with Marne Maykowskyj, who had recently joined VMS. During one of our breaks, she shared with me some of the tools and techniques she was learning while pursuing her master’s in organizational development (MSOD). I asked her which of these tools she’d recommend using in our current workshop. She suggested trying a simple check-in/check-out exercise using a Gestalt method.

This approach helps you focus on the present and understand what is happening in your life at the moment. At a large group meeting, this can help connect the team and allow the facilitator to know where each participant’s focus is at on a personal level before turning people’s attention to work. A simple check-in helps provide clarity, build trust, and increase transparency on the path to building a connection on a personal level. It can help guide you to get the best from your team. By putting work second, it enables them to be present and ready for the content of the meeting by taking a moment to identify and share how they are feeling and what they are bringing to the meeting. For instance, is Mary’s focus low after her daughter was late to school and forgot her backpack? Sharing this with the team allows teammates to know each other a little better (Mary has a daughter) and understand their current state.

What is Gestalt?

Gestalt is a systems approach to people, organizations, and the world. It is the belief that the whole organism: person, team, organization, etc., is more than the sum of its parts. The system is made up of all the experiences of all the people. It is a focus on awareness, being very present, and using that data, and thus, the examination of the whole of each person in the room.

But what is a check-in, really?

A short activity to establish each team member’s mood or current emotional state, at any given point during a meeting. It is an opportunity to hear from every person on your team and find out how they are doing.

Here’s a check-in in action.

The next morning, Marne demonstrated a check-in with the team. She asked the group two simple questions–on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, how is your:

  1. Energy
  2. Focus

Other simple check-in questions:

  1. How is your energy, focus, and heart?
  2. What are two words that describe how you feel right now?
  3. What do you need to put away in order to be 100% here today?
  4. Share a photo or emoji of how you’re feeling today.
  5. If you could work anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  6. In one word, what’s your emotional state today?

I was surprised at how much variation there was in our group, from those that were pegged at 10s in both areas, to those that were barely at a 3-4 in energy and focus. With the heavy technical content we were about to launch into, I pivoted my facilitation style to improve the team’s engagement by slowing down and periodically returning to what the participants had shared. “How are you feeling now, Mary?” “Do we need to take a break to let you stretch your legs after that ride, Bill?”

At the end of the day, Marne led a check-out and it was a powerful way to end the day. By the end of the week, the team was speaking in terms of their levels of focus and energy throughout the day. Their awareness of their energy and focus was high and they were comfortable sharing with their team.

So many times, we start meetings by jumping right into the agenda without ever taking a pulse on our participants. This is especially challenging in the virtual world. Cameras on. Cameras off. Maybe the only thing we know about the person on screen is their name, or just initials in a circular box. This simple check-in/check-out exercise gives the team leader or facilitator the ability to read a room and understand where your participants are. If you have participants with their focus in the 3-5 range and energy in the 3-5 range, launching into a technically heavy discussion is not going to yield the collaboration and engagement that you need. You could pivot and switch gears or facilitation methods, or modify your agenda accordingly to get the results you need at the end of the day.

Creating a connection.

I regularly use this check-in/check-out technique. It is also easily modified to fit your needs. On a Monday, my check-in question will be something simple, like asking about your favorite part of the weekend. On a Friday, I might ask about one thing on your To-Do List that you’re hoping to check off this week/weekend or next week. Other questions could include “what is your favorite food, favorite restaurant,” or “what do you like to cook?” The point is not so much the question that you’re asking but that you’re engaging and connecting on a human level with your team. This helps build camaraderie. It can be difficult to build when you just focus on business, especially when your participants might not know each other or have not worked together before.

Don’t be surprised if someone tells you that it was their favorite part of the workshop or meeting. I’ve had workshop participants e-mail me after a meeting to tell me what their energy or focus level was. This exercise also allows you to know your participants better. People tend to open up and share information with you that not only increases understanding but gives you, as the facilitator, that important information on how to really get the best out of your team and maximize engagement.

Marne leverages Miro, an online collaboration space, for one check-in. This platform is one tool she uses to create deep engagement during the virtual sessions she facilitates.

Try this technique at your next meeting.

I challenge (encourage) you to try it out at your next meeting and see if it helps increase team engagement. If you are interested and want to learn more about these types of techniques, I would highly recommend taking Marne’s Amplify Results Facilitation Training. Her interactive class starts Friday, March 10.

Basic guidelines for check-ins
**Check in rules:
  1. Ensure every person has the chance to share and bring their voice into the room.
  2. Allow different personality types various ways to engage. Some may feel more comfortable sharing in a virtual chat, some may feel more comfortable going last.
  3. Passing is ALWAYS allowed.
**Ways to engage:
  1. Facilitator calls on each person.
  2. “Popcorn” style – each person speaks up when they are ready.
  3. “Pass the baton” – after each person shares, they choose the next person to “pass” to.
  4. When in person, each person speaks around the room.
About the Authors:

Dave heads up our quality management team. He leads client groups of 10 to 100+ helping public and private organizations improve their processes and procedures.



Marne has 25+ years of experience designing and facilitating experiences from the built environment to building community. From one-on-one coaching to small team development to large-group statewide summits, she has successfully facilitated events that make a difference.