Check-ins can revolutionize the way you manage. Check-in meetings are a container for management and relationship-building. They give managers and staff a consistent time and space to build the relationship, balance priorities across projects, share feedback, ask probing questions, and serve as a resource for each other.
Here are seven tips for getting the most out of your check-ins:
1. Co-create and use an agenda.
Ask your staff to prep and share agendas in advance, making sure to add your agenda items as well (see next tip). This meeting template will help keep the meeting focused and purposeful—but make sure to review the template with your staff member and customize it to meet your needs. Using a template (or at least having standing agenda items) ensures that check-ins are consistent. Whether your staff member thrives with structure or needs time to process topics in advance, having a standard agenda can help them engage fully in the conversation. Clarity and consistency help lay the foundation for a successful manager/staff relationship.
At the same time, consistency does not mean rigidity. Instead, use your check-ins to be both proactive and responsive. Sometimes this means discussing projects well before their deadline to anticipate and mitigate challenges; other times, it means helping to solve the problem that reared its head 15 minutes ago.
2. Do your prep.
Just because your staff person owns the agenda doesn’t mean you should rely solely on their pre-work. Take two minutes before the meeting to think through what you feel is most important to discuss.
Think through the following questions:
- What is one outcome I want from this check-in?
- Is there anything I’m worried about?
- What do I want to make sure we focus on?
More importantly, prepping isn’t just about having your agenda items ready—it also means making sure you’re present and engaged. For many managers (especially of large and/or remote teams), the check-in meeting is the only time you get to engage 1-1 with your staff each week. Make it count. Try closing your email or your twenty other tabs and putting your phone aside. Take a few minutes to “put on the Green Lens,” which we talk about in The Four Elements of Strong Relationships.
3. Use your time wisely.
Not all items need to be discussed or prepped in advance. For example, in a one-hour meeting, assuming that you each put in fifteen minutes of prep time in advance, you might be able to cover: a personal check-in, two main topics of discussion, a few quick questions or items for approval, and two-way feedback. Meanwhile, your actual agenda document may have ten other things you don’t discuss during the check-in at all—and that’s fine!
Don’t be fooled by our check-in agenda template and sample. While there are many components, not everything needs air time (the staff member can share big rocks and updates in writing, and you can skip discussing them unless you have questions) and some things don’t need written prep at all (e.g., the personal check-in). The two places where we recommend both advance prep (possibly in writing) and discussion are items for discussion, decision-making, or troubleshooting, and feedback.
4. Ask probing questions.
Check-ins are an opportunity to dig deeper so that you can troubleshoot problems or even mitigate them before they arise. Rather than asking, “So how’s project X going?” find ways to get beneath the surface with questions like:
- What makes you say that?
- How do you know that you’re on track?
- What could go wrong?
- Are there any choice points that you’re weighing?
- Are there any equity implications you’re considering?
Asking questions also puts you in a coaching stance so that you not only support by offering guidance, you also allow them to design solutions. When presented with a problem, consider asking:
- What do you think?
- What are some options you can think of? Which one are you leaning toward?
- If you were in charge, how would you approach it?
5. Give (and solicit) feedback and debrief recent projects.
Reflect on what’s gone well and what could be improved, and take advantage of the opportunity to discuss lessons from recently concluded projects.
Make sure to invite feedback from your staff member. The check-in is a crucial opportunity to understand how you’re doing at managing and supporting your team.
6. Make sure that next steps are clear.
Always end the meeting with an explicit agreement about what will happen next, even if it’s just, “Let’s both think this over and discuss it again next week.” It can be helpful for your staff person to take two minutes to email you a quick summary of what was agreed to or to at least give you a verbal recap of action items at the end of the meeting.
7. Don’t substitute check-ins for ongoing communication or vice-versa.
Check-ins are one forum for communication and management, but they aren’t the only forum. While you might save extensive 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.
On the flip side, don’t forgo check-ins just because you regularly communicate with your staff member (such as through email, Slack, team meetings, etc.). 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.
For additional support on conducting check-ins, check out Managing Through Uncertainty: Check-ins Add-on and 5 Tips For Better Check-ins During COVID-19.