Circle practice is the foundation of my work – whether in core team planning meetings or when we gather for retreats, conferences, meetings and more. And circle is more than just the chairs rearranged. There are various components that help make it a strong social structure (agreements, centre, host, guardian, check-in/check-out, talking piece, and the principles and practices).
One way to begin to introduce circle process in your meetings is using a check-in and check-out.
Check-in helps people into a frame of mind for council and reminds everyone of their commitment to the expressed intention. It insures that people are truly present. Verbal sharing, especially a brief story, weaves the interpersonal net.
Check-in usually starts with a volunteer and proceeds around the circle. If an individual is not ready to speak, the turn is passed and another opportunity is offered after others have spoken. Sometimes people place individual objects in the center as a way of signifying their presence and relationship to the intention. ~ PeerSpirit Circle Guidelines
Crafting the check-in question is important. You want to think about:
- How much time do you have for the check-in? Think about how BIG your question is – does it invite a three to five minute story from each person, or a sentence or two?
- How can the check-in connect and support the rest of the agenda and the overall purpose of the gathering?
- What kind of tone do you want to create through the check-in? Playful? Serious? Connecting? Learning something new about each other?
- Is this a group very familiar with check-ins and have been meeting together regularly? Maybe it is time to mix things up with some fun and playfulness!
A check-in question such as “Tell us the story of how you originally came into this work” will open the story space and would likely be a longer check-in process. A check-in question like “Say a few words on how you are arriving today – what you might need to speak to be able to release and be present today” could be a shorter check-in.
Work the question you want to start with. Will it generate the kind of thoughtfulness you are hoping for? If not, how can it be nuanced – or sometimes completely thrown out in favour of a better question – to do the work you intend it to do?
How much time do you have for your check-in? With a long time frame of meeting – a day or more, you have more time to begin well. With a shorter meeting – as little as an hour or two – you can still begin well, just be conscious of the nature of the question you are asking. The better you begin, the better the quality of the meeting, usually with better results in a shorter time frame. ~ Kathy Jourdain, Shaping Questions for Powerful Check-ins and Check-out Processes
A little story… I remember a session I designed and hosted with members from various agencies connected in a common purpose of providing youth services, particularly for high-risk youth. Because of scheduling conflicts we weren’t able to have any youth in the room with us, but it was very important to bring them into the room in a symbolic and meaningful way, to provide a reminder of what was at the centre of their work.
The check-in question we used was to invite them to share a little story of a particular youth and the impact that the youth services had or could have on them. They selected an image from the Visual Explorer deck that reminded them about a particular youth and used the image to help them tell the story. We had fifteen people and about 30 minutes for the check-in process. You can imagine the tone this set for the meeting – emotion, possibility, hope, and concern all came forth, including the very real presence of the youth.
In another group, this time on the subject of identifying possible priorities for a task force on sexually exploited and at-risk youth, we had about 30 people in the room, some who knew each other and many who didn’t. We only had a few hours for the session so needed to design a check-in that welcomed everyone’s voice but didn’t take very long. Our check-in question was short and sweet “Share your name, how you are connected to this group, and a sentence on why you accepted the invitation to be here.” In less than fifteen minutes everyone had spoken, and together we heard the commitment to the issues, the delight at being invited, a sense of the diversity in the room, and the curiosity about what this incredible group would create together. A powerful start in a very short period of time.
A friend of mind recently introduced check-in process with her team at an elementary school. With the first check-in she invited the group to share a recent success they’ve experienced. People valued the process and commented on how it set the tone for the rest of the agenda. She is now planning for the next meeting, carefully crafting the check-in question.
For this next meeting she might build a centre filled with spring-time items – green fabric, maybe some tulips, a little bird nest filled with chocolate eggs. She could give some framing, how it is springtime on our coast…the daffodils are out with their sunny faces, the tulips are coming up (some have even bloomed), the trees are getting leaves and buds on them. It is a time of noticing life and hope. For our check-in today I invite you to share a sentence or two on what have you noticed this past week that gives you hope? Some new growth you have noticed in a student?
In an environment of ‘not-enough-ness’ – not enough time, not enough funding, not enough support, not enough action from the government… this check-in asks people to find something good already happening. To shine a light on that and celebrate the growth that is happening despite all the challenges. To remind each other that our work here is making a difference. Ah what a lovely way to begin a meeting!
How does this sound in action? My friend has also introduced the use of a talking piece, so in her case this is what she might say:
“Finally it is springtime on our coast…the daffodils are out with their sunny faces, the tulips are coming up (some have even bloomed), the trees are getting leaves and buds on them. It is a time of noticing life and hope. Before we start with today’s staff meeting, I wanted to take a little bit of time to check-in and share what growth and hope we are noticing. Share a sentence or two on what have you noticed this past week that gives you hope? Some new growth you have noticed in a student?
In our busy days we can lose track of the good things that are happening and we don’t often get a chance to share these good things. To help us check-in and hear from everyone I have a talking piece. Who ever has the piece can speak their sentence or two on the new growth or hope they’ve noticed in a student and the rest of us give them our attention and our listening. If the piece comes to you and you aren’t ready to speak, you can pass the piece along. At the end we can pick up your voice. We are XX number of people and have about XX time for our check-in”. Then she will go first to model – that way she can set the tone and the length of time to speak. When the talking piece comes back to her, if people did pass, she can send it around the circle again inviting anyone who didn’t speak the first time they are welcome to – and it is also okay to pass.
I am a collector of questions – anytime I come across a good possible check-in question I nab it. Here are some of the check-in questions I have gathered:
- What’s up for you, in your life? What’s one new and interesting thing you’ve been thinking about lately?
- What’s one thing that brings you energy and joy?
- What kind of a day have you had so far today?
- What is your personal weather status (cloudy, foggy, sunny breaks etc)?
- What’s one thing that you’re really proud of that you’d like to share with the group?
- Why did you accept the invitation to join this gathering?
- What are you seeking to learn and contribute?
- What’s become apparent since we last met?
- What question is being asked of you (or through you) right now?
- What words would you use to describe where your head is? And where your heart is?
- What are you noticing in your environment that relates to this project?
- What are you willing to set aside in order to be present with this conversation?
- How are you arriving today? Happening inside and outside themselves at the moment to acknowledge before we begin?
- How has the last gathering impacted you and your work?
- What is the crossroads where you find yourself at this stage of your life or work or in the project around which we are assembled?
- Why are you really here?
- (For a group that has been working together for a while, preparing for an event) What makes you tremble as you look ahead at the event? What worries or fears are bubbling up in you?
- What led you to accept the invitation?
- What would it take for you to be fully present in this room?
- If you could invite someone you respect to sit beside you and support you in making this meeting successful, whom would that be?
- What’s one thing you hope to get accomplished at today’s meeting?
- What is one interest of yours that others in this group might not know about?
- What task or concern would you like to set aside so that you can fully concentrate on our work today?
- What is a recent success you’ve experienced?
- What aspect of your job brings you the most satisfaction?
- Given our work so far, what do you feel best about?
- What do you like best about ____________ (weekends, vacation, the current season, etc.)
- Each share why we are interested in being part of this core team and what we hope to learn or benefit from being a part of it?
- Share a one or two word intention you hold for today’s meeting.
- What is something you came across recently that gave you hope or inspiration?
People who come to an Art of Hosting training are often introduced to check-in and check-out for the first time. There are many forms of check-in and check-out. If we’ve done our work well, these processes will have been experienced in a variety of ways – through the use of words, body, music and using varying lengths of time from a couple of hours or more to a 10-15 minute process.
Many people leave a training seeing the possibility of bringing a check-in process to their team or meetings but wondering exactly how to do that well. Using the same question all the time eventually wears out its appeal so it becomes important to hold attention and keep things meaningful and relevant to bring new questions at least periodically. It keeps things fresh. Which brings it all back to purpose and intention. ~ Kathy Jourdain, Shaping Questions for Powerful Check-ins and Check-out Processes