Frequently Asked Questions about Check-ins

Have questions about conducting check-ins? We have answers!

1. My check-ins mostly consist of going over project updates. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just have staff members email me status reports?

You definitely shouldn’t spend much time in check-ins on project updates. Instead, ask your staff members to include quick bulleted updates in the written agenda they email you ahead of time, so that you can read the updates before the meeting—and can instead spend your check-in time on the items that truly require back-and-forth conversation.

Before a check-in, ask yourself: What are you trying to get out of this meeting? What are the items you’re most concerned about? Then, as much as possible, focus your time on those items.

2. Is it okay to save up most conversations with a staff member for our check-ins in order to avoid interruptions the rest of the week?

Well, check-ins aren’t meant to substitute ongoing communication. While you might save big strategic conversations for your check-ins, make sure that you stay accessible the rest of the week. You don’t want staff members to be stalled on their work for several days while they wait for your check-in if a few minutes with you would allow them to move forward.

3. I have a lot of contact with my staff most days, so would there be any point to doing formal check-ins as well?

Check-ins help you step out of the day-to-day back-and-forth and ask big questions like, “what progress are we making on X?” They also give you time for debriefing projects, giving big-picture feedback, and other things that might not happen in the rush of day-to-day work.

4. Do you have any tips for doing check-ins with remote staff?

  • Try to conduct your meetings over video as much as possible. It’s much easier to avoid miscommunication if you have the benefit of nonverbal cues.
  • Consider dedicating a little more time during your check-in to catching up about non-work things, like family updates, weekend plans, or whatever else feels appropriate. It’s generally harder to get to know your staff if chance encounters in the kitchen or hallway are nonexistent, so building in an extra five minutes for casual conversation can add up over time.
  • As much as possible, be diligent about scheduling (and not canceling or rescheduling!). When you’re working in separate locations, you’re less likely to talk regularly if you leave things ad hoc.

5. Sometimes I leave check-in meetings with more items on my to-do list and fewer on my staff member’s! What am I doing wrong?

It’s a common pitfall for managers to undo delegation by taking back work that has been assigned, especially if something’s going wrong, or if your staff member is new (to the job or to the task itself). Resist the temptation to do, and focus on coaching instead.

Check-ins are a great time to coach and guide. When you’re tempted to step in and take on your staff member’s work, try phrases like these:

  • “What do you think?” (In fact, you might make this your mantra!)
  • “What are you leaning toward?”
  • “What do you think a good solution would be?”
  • “How do you think we should approach it?”

That said, sometimes the next steps that come out of check-ins will be yours. But they should be in the vein of reviewing the staff member’s draft or giving feedback on work, rather than ​doing​ their work. (The exception to this is if it’s a piece that truly only you can/should do, such as calling an important donor.)

6. Asking my staff members to use a standardized agenda template feels micromanage-y to me, especially for more senior staff members.

It’s helpful to use a template no matter how senior a staff member is because it ensures that check-ins will be structured in a way that allows you and your staff member to achieve the purposes of the check-in.

Ultimately, while some staff members might resist it at the start, if it ends up working better for you both, they won’t be annoyed for long! You can always suggest trying it for a month and revisiting it if it’s not working well by then. Additionally, staff members can adjust the template if there are things they want to communicate that aren’t included, and that can help with buy-in.

7. I manage several staff members who do similar work. Is it okay to do one big check-in meeting with all of them, rather than meeting individually?

Group meetings work well for coordination, but not for individual management, where you’ll be giving feedback and delving into the details of each person’s work. Instead, save staff meetings for conversations that truly involve the entire group and set aside time to regularly talk with each person.

8. I’d love to hold weekly check-ins, but my schedule is packed. How do I find the time?

It’s okay to consider context and other demands on your time. Use a schedule that works for you, rather than feeling like you absolutely must spend one hour every week with every person on your team. For instance, you might hold check-ins every other week rather than weekly, depending on the people you’re managing and the needs of the work. And you can switch things up; when things are moving quickly, such as in the final weeks of a campaign, you might meet several times a week, but only meet weekly in slower times. If a staff member is fairly autonomous, you might meet less frequently, such as every few weeks.