Toolbox: Check-ins

Episode 4 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we get our nerd on about “check-ins” as a facilitation tool: what they are, when they’re useful, and their limitations.

‘Notice what intention you have when you’re trying to do a check in, and bring that intention as much as you can into the way that you hold the space.’ – Katherine

Show notes, links

Find “Check-in” on Seeds for Change’s tools page.

See our “What is facilitation?” podcast episode page for more general facilitation resources.


Ali: This is Resist + Renew.

Kat: A UK-based podcast about social movements.

Sami: What we’re fighting for, why, and how it all happens.

Ali: The hosts of the show are:

Kat: Me Kat,

Sami: Me, Sami,

Ali: and me, Ali,

Sami: I’m recording this now baby

Ali: Shit it’s a podcast.


Sami: Okay, so welcome to the toolbox from Resist + Renew. This is a podcast where we geek out about different tools in our facilitation toolbox, what they are when they’re useful, and their limitations. And today we are talking about check ins. So first things first, what are check ins. So like check ins are a name that we use for kind of tools where people can share how people are doing. And within the context of a meeting or a workshop. often they’re used at the start of a workshop, but not entirely. And they can also be a useful tool to check in on how people are feeling in the middle of something after lunch after something stressful happened at the end, etc. And they are generally used to help facilitators and potentially other people get an eye on how people are doing and like how people engage how people respond to questions, etc. and can be depending on how they are used a good way to like build connection within groups and build that relationship with them groups. And one thing that people often do, which is like a crossover between check ins and icebreakers is often people will as a check in have a kind of like icebreaker question, because it’s a very low intensity way into a workshop. So for example, like, What’s your favourite vegetable? Or why’d you like autumn, or whatever? And so that’s what a check in is. Anyone else have anything else to describe the check in before we move into a little bit of an example?

Ali: Often, like a go round format as well, it’s not, it’s usually not just like, open space, and everyone chuck in and stuff. It like tends to be in a circle format. Just I think that’s mostly to make it flow easier, and to make the threshold for speaking as low as possible, as well. So that’s what a check in is. And yeah, I’m just going to share a little story about like examples of when, or an example of when we’ve I’ve used one. So a couple of years ago, a few friends came over to my mum’s farm in Wales, and it wasn’t like a workshop thing. But it was kind of hybrid holiday hybrid hangout and work, have discussions kind of space. So it’s pretty low pressure situation. Yeah, we had, we had offerings of discussions, we had fun tasks to do around but it wasn’t like, there was any, like, major purpose. And every day, we just had a check in for like, an hour or two is pretty chill. And I think it just added to the vibe, changed it from like just hanging out to something a bit more collective, something a bit more hearing about where everyone is at. And yeah, that was good. And I think, though there was no, there was no intention to do anything particularly difficult. But like people did bring up some like, intense stuff. And I think that’s like, partly because we had a space for that. So yeah, it’s kind of nice. Anyone else want to add anything? example wise?

Kat: I mean, I feel like that is a really lovely example. And I wonder like whether those people that were there maybe had some experience of check ins and, and why we might use them. And I guess a lot of the experience I’ve had of check ins in groups where they’ve not worked so well, has been like, maybe people don’t really know what they’re for, or don’t really feel maybe safe enough to share, or don’t really want to share anything other than quite a surface level. And then if you do a go round, and everyone says I’m fine, great I’m glad, is that true? And if it isn’t true, is there a way that attacking is going to help you share deeper, like it’s almost like it’s a signal for where the group is at in terms of how much it wants to share with each other. And then in that sense can be useful. But sometimes it can get quite formulaic because I kind of wonder what the conditions might be that help a check in do what it’s supposed to do. And if there if there was anything you noticed about that group in Wales, or the way you use check ins when they do work is to what makes them work.

Ali: Hmm, good question. I guess I’m glad what comes up for me and that is like the context so like, I can imagine and maybe I’ve seen it many Yeah, I haven’t but like in like a work setting where there’s like a hierarchy, and there’s like a expectation to be productive and expectation to, like, perform a certain way like that there’s less of bandwidth for bringing your whole self and the negative stuff that you’re having that day. So if you’re gonna say, like, I feel like total shit, and I don’t want to do my work, your boss isn’t gonna want to hear that, I guess, like the willingness for the group to be able to hear it or like the perception that the group is able to hear it is maybe a condition.

Sami: And I think it kind of goes back to that question of what the purposes right like, often the purpose of check ins is not necessarily to know how people are doing, it’s to know how, how much people feel able to or into the idea of feeling how they’re doing. Like, and that’s, you don’t necessarily get an eye on how they’re feeling and their internal state, but you do get an eye and are willing to share their internal state they are, which is a useful thing as a facilitator in terms of and how you frame the rest of the workshop. And if your plan was to do loads of like, kind of, to go straight in quickly to some kind of like, quite experiential, like feelings based stuff, and you did do a go around that everyone was like, I’m fine, then you’d be like, Okay, I think maybe we’re gonna need to get any to add some stuff in and maybe do some kind of breathing stuff, make people feel settled, blah, blah, blah, I don’t know, whatever. And, and the thing, actually, like a thing, which comes to mind based on these stories is like, I was part of a group once a group of people who I didn’t know around like a kind of squatted social centre project. And, and one of the things that we did coz, it was like, a, it was like a 24 seven, like, political squat. So it’s like quite an intense time – ntense, kind of arena. And, and one thing that we did was at the end of every kind of like we, in the day, we do like activities, workshops, things like that. And then like, at the end of the day, we’d all have a little check in just in terms of like, how we’re doing etc, before we go into like, any kind of like, dinner, or also like evening discussions and whatever. And that was often the thing, that one that people said that they like, valued most about the space was just being involved in a space where people actually give a shit about how other people were feeling. Like, and that was one of the things that then like the people that came out of that space, like then did a lot of other things afterwards, etc, together, because like the kind of bond that was created by actually just giving a shit about each other as people, even if you’d haven’t met the person before, like a couple of days ago, just like really helped kind of like lay that groundwork. So that’s, I guess, one of the examples of where it can build connection. But there is a willingness there, right, like people are also open to it.

Kat: Absolutely. I mean, that that sounds really great. I guess, there’s some scenarios where it can be pitched in a way that can feel like limiting of connection. And so there was a group I was part of, once we’re in the check in meetings, the pitch of what you were allowed to share in the Tekken was explicitly named as like, not too intense. And, and examples were given around the not too intense level of check in, which was like, “I went to the dentist today, and it was a bit uncomfortable”. And it’s that sense of like, oh, wow, I’m really not allowed, like, even if I wanted to, I’m really not really supposed to share very much. And so there’s also some questions, I would say if like, if you’re really not up for hearing, don’t do a check in as like a sham form of like wanting to care for each other if you’re not really interested. Because I think that’s more harmful than not having the check in at all. So yeah, getting clarity around the purpose of the check in and if you’re really up for whatever comes. And I think it’s really important.

Ali: Yeah. And I guess that leads to the next point we had, which is around when things do come up, then what you do with it is important. So like, if everyone says they’re tired, and can’t focus, and then the facilitator is just like, “Okay, thanks for that. Next point on the agenda”. Let’s, we’ve got five things to talk about, we have to do it. That kind of invalidates the whole point of doing it. And it just shows it to be a sham, like you said, so I think like, yeah, we have to be, should be responsive to like what people say, and like, if everyone’s on a bad on a bad day, then maybe we just don’t, don’t have a meeting or do something different. And if you’re listening to our podcasts, and you can check out our episode from Josina from LION, because they gave a example of that where they were going to have a strategy session. And it was a really intense time. And then they were like, we don’t want to do this. Let’s have some connection, spiritual time. Can’t remember what they did, it was either breath work or meditation or something like that. But it was a shift from productivity to like, yeah, connection and bit more space because of recognising where they’re at. So I think that’s really really valuable to note that people do that

Kat: snap. So he says some of our top takeaways about check ins? Sami, do you want to kick us off?

Sami: yeah, definitely. So I think for me, like, definitely experience check ins the most often as like a meeting opener like links to icebreakers, but the kind of check ins that I value the most, as a meeting participant, as well as as a facilitator of the kind of check ins that happen in the middle of sessions. And often in the middle of conversations, especially where things get a bit more heated, and become a bit more. Or like your work. If you’re feeling worried that like conversations are going off the rails or things like that, being able to like have a check in and see how people are feeling and see how people are responding to the situation just gives you so much more knowledge to be able to decide like, what actually am I reading in that everybody is really stressed? And actually, they’re feeling fine. And they’re just like, feeling time pressured? Or like, are some people really upset and they feel like they can’t participate anymore? And like having kind of using check ins as a method to explicitly go off what people are feeling rather than implicitly assume it is my top check in faith. Ali?

Ali: so I think my top takeaways like that, I think they were really vital tool, I think they’re essential to stop us being on like a go, go, go productivity vibe, but they need to be meaningful. And the group needs to, like, accept that changes might need to happen based on where people are at. So if it if people are too stressed out, then make making changes is okay. Katherine.?

Kat: Yeah, I think just to kind of reiterate something I said before, around, really noticing like, what intention you have when you’re trying to do a check in and, and, and bring that intention as much as you can into the way that you hold that space. And so that would be in terms of thinking about how you frame the question, the amount of time that you allow for a check in, and the possible follow up another adaptation that might be made afterwards. And that intention will carry through and hopefully lead to a better process. And just being like, well, people in in groups generally do check in. So let’s do a check in, which can often happen. So yeah, have the intention that you really want to get from it what you want to get from it.

Ali: Great. Perfect.

Ali: So how did you find this episode?

Sami: So good to give people a second to think about it. So we’ll take a second to think about it.

Sami: I’m happy to start. I, I enjoyed this because it reminded me of an experience that I had forgotten and had did not come up when I was trying to remember check ins when we were planning what we were going to talk about. So I’ve appreciated this conversation as a way of reminding me of a positive experience of check ins previously, so thank you, both of you. It sounded like someone was gonna speak but I didn’t hear who it was. Okay, well, in which case, Katherine?

Kat: Yea, I think for me, there’s something around and finding a lot of power in their story from Josina. Around the way that meeting changed. And noticing like sometimes when we do check ins for our meetings, we might share that we’re a bit tired or had a bit of a tricky day. But because we’ve put the meeting and we don’t have very much time we kind of plough on regardless. And and yeah, there was just something really helpful about hearing that. Oh, yeah, no, maybe we can adapt if we’re not feeling that up for it. We don’t have to plough on and that the check-in is actually really important data or like information for the for the group and we need to take that seriously.

Ali: Yeah, I find a good I enjoyed it. I thought we were flowing better than some of our first recording session times like we are learning – our learning has come into effect. And I like the reminder that check ins don’t have to be at the beginning or the end of a thing. Middle middle is good.

Sami: check ins. Woop woop

Ali: Thanks for listening to this episode of the resist and renew podcast. Next week’s episode is going to feature Peninah from the Racial Justice Network, so be sure to check that one out. Thanks as always to Klaus for letting us use his song Neff for our intro and outro music and if you want to find out more about Resist, Renew has to our website, resist and you can work and the production of this podcast. Thanks. See you next time.

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