Updated: Nov 24, 2021
The world of work, for many teams, can be experienced as a whirlwind of meetings. Meeting with stakeholders, clients, connected teams, collaborators and of course the team itself.
It is important to recognise that whilst this is what 21st Century work looks like, it is a far stretch from how humans evolved culturally, socially and psychologically. We are tribal by nature and our psychology has learned to adapt to this new mode of operations - where we can be in new tribes by the hour and on the hour - often with no time in between. We can also, more recently, expect for these spaces to be digital and so a further step away from what we have evolved to accommodate. Now, we face a screen full of faces all looking at us at once - minus much of human non-verbal communication and often with our own face looking back at us too!
When working with teams, groups and clients we have been trained as clinicians to utilise the check-in process. Some examples of check-ins, to be clear about what I am referring to. These exercises being the initial component of a team meeting for all members to be included:
- each stating how they are feeling right now
- each stating what they are bringing from their work day / week that is perhaps difficult to let go of
- each stating what they hope to achieve or expect from the meeting today
- each stating what they have experienced about the team this week, that was positive
- each stating what their energy level is like, out of 10, ahead of this meeting
We train teams in this approach too, as the benefits are often more than might be expected:
#1: Transitioning Spaces
Whatever we have come to accept as normative now, we are physical beings in a physical world. For millennia, we have moved between spaces and our psychological frame shifts and adapts as we move. When we are in a bar we have a different role, expectations and social script to when we are in a meeting with our colleagues to when we are in our dining room with our families.
The world of work requires us to often shift out frame of psychology in an instant. Perhaps moving from a planning meeting into a sales meeting, or a management meeting into a crisis solution meeting... We can experience these back to back, the whole day - no wonder we get tired!
The problem for teams arises when teams meet to develop the team or to invite innovation. In these spaces the team needs to be able to access playfulness, creativity, trust and all of the other good emotions teams can bring. This can be very difficult when we don't have the signal we have evolved to need, to signal to us that we have moved to a playful space. We are perhaps still using Teams, in the same room, or entering the same board room we had a stressful meeting in 2 hours ago. Our minds have not had a prompt that this space is for something very different - and so it can rely upon associations and take shortcuts to put us in a state of mind and emotion.
This can mean that teams arrive together with emotional states and expectations that are very out of sync with a team development goal.
Stating out loud what the meeting is hoping to achieve and then letting the team state how they feel in relation to this goal can be helpful. Team members get to notice where they are in relation to where the team needs them to be and the team gets a barometer on how much it might need to to support team members in arriving psychologically.
#2 Mental Health Awareness
Asking each other to state how you feel and making this a permissible act within teams is a valuable approach towards creating team understanding, compassion and an overall awareness of individual and team need. The team, and leaders, can observe if there are general feelings common to the team or repeated feelings common to individuals. This creates a broader sense of team or individual need, beyond the goals of the organisation. Inviting and permitting emotions to be stated is powerful for teams and should be practiced. Quite often we hear individuals state that emotions should not be brought to work, denying that we do even if we don't want to. When teams model the disclosure of emotions, it breaks down barriers and shows team members that this is a safe topic.
#3 Acceptance of difference
Observing the two points above, it is an expectation that team members will not always feel the same or embody the same energy or engagement, at work. This is not to say that team members are letting the team down if they feel disengaged or tired.
When we hear the difference between team members, it affords the team the ability to understand why a team member may not be forthcoming, may be overly critical or maybe disinterested in a theme. When we understand the inner worlds of people, we avoid making the wrong interpretations of their actions. For teams this is critical, as many of us personalise the behaviour of others and this can create cracks in teams. If a team member seems disinterested - we can feel that they feel that we are not capable, or they dismiss our ideas etc etc... but when we know that they are tired and distracted, we can account for their behaviour.
This may seem like it is not rocket science for you, but across a whole team the risk of misinterpretation is magnified.
When we hear how the team members are in this moment, we can acknowledge the challenges some team members are experiencing and continue the meeting. It is a surprising outcome that when people feel heard and have spoke, they can shift in themselves to join the team that is being supportive.
When people try to hold in their experiences - be these thoughts or feelings - the outcome is that they tend to spill out in other places.
When we invite checkins, we invite the sharing of experience and challenge into a supportive space. We are creating a safe space to state what the current issues are. We are NOT inviting team members to attack / blame each other or the team, but to simply state what they are feeling or thinking that may be a hinderance to working well together today in this space.
This can be containing for people. When they realise that the group can hear and hold their challenges, without rejection, panic or desperate attempts to rescue - it invites more sharing and more group communication.
Sharing of experience into safe spaces is the bedrock of all therapy and at a less intense level, is useful for all groups of people in a similar fashion.
Safety for a team is the team hearing, showing compassion and then moving forwards with this compassion in mind. Leaders can pick up 1 to 1 on any themes that sound like they need support, for the team, it is enough to be able to hear each other.
Check-ins can be littered with positive communication. Beyond sharing current place and state in the language of challenge, we can also shared this in the language of appreciation and value. We can talk about what the team has achieved, how it has helped us individually and what we value about it or members in it.
I have seen many teams shed tears when they talk about why they want to be in the team and what they value. These conversations are important to have on a regular basis and can be activated as very brief check-ins. Recognise that in the world, when we want to connect with people, we are intently positive about our experience of them.
Check-ins are often more than teams and leaders consider they might be. They are worth playing with in team spaces, so give it a shot if you haven't already!