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The Ups and Downs of the Daily Check-In Meeting

By Gordon Blocker - September 2016

In my work guiding clients to lead healthy organizations, I see pretty clearly that a team meeting is a great indicator of its health. One IT team I recently met with is a perfect example: our offsite was the only time the team had all been in the same room over the past six months. I wasn’t surprised to then learn that they were having trouble delivering on their goal. I always tell clients that, like it or not, teamwork happens in meetings. Even so, it’s still fairly common for teams to push back when they hear our recommendation for a daily check-in meeting. They either get hung up on the frequency of the meeting or on some of the mechanics. They say, “I can’t add another meeting to my schedule, much less a daily meeting!” Or, “How is this going to work? Our team is traveling and working all over the place!”

Instead of just focusing on the frequency or the mechanics of the check-in, it is critical for everyone to understand the purpose and the value of the meeting.

The Case for the Daily Check-in

The check-in meeting has a positive impact for teams and minimizes risks simultaneously. Here’s a breakdown of those pairs.

  • Increases trust and minimizes politics. The rest of the organization will catch on quickly when they see their leaders connecting daily as a team.

I have a manufacturing client who holds their check-ins right in the middle of the office in a conference room full of windows. No one can hear what they are discussing, but everyone is clear that the team is serious about being a team when they see them meeting day after day.

  • Increases perspective across the business areas and minimizes silos. It’s difficult to ask hard questions across the table when we lack any visibility into others’ responsibilities. One software client of mine has an interesting strategy. After a check-in, if one person on the team (say the chief marketing officer) has a tough issue to tackle that day, they assign a cross-functional peer (for example, the chief engineer) to follow up, learn more, and figure out how they can help.
  • Increases communication and minimizes fire drills. The negative impact of skipping this meeting is often felt more than the positive impact of doing it. The reality is this: check-in communication happens whether we do it on purpose or not. When teams do not do the daily check-in they have to overcompensate with other conventional, sub-optimal ways to communicate (reply-all emails, fly bys, fire drills).
  • Increases leadership awareness and minimizes micromanagement. The team leader often benefits more than others. He or she is less likely to interrupt work flow during the day after a check-in. During an offsite with an architecture firm, I asked the team a tough question: “How often does your CEO interrupt your flow during the day to ask a question or change your priorities?” Every hand shot up and laughter filled the room. But, once they started the check-ins, the CEO was able to get the visibility she needed without constant fly-bys.
  • Increases speed to healthy debate during staff meetings and minimizes lengthy report outs. If you don’t do the check-in you will lose significant time during your weekly meetings to catch up. One of my clients has an executive team located across four time zones. While having a check-in sounds impossible, they were suffering more in their weekly tactical meeting where they spent the first 45 minutes just dumping all the updates around the table. By the time that was over, the energy to debate critical issues was gone. They were ready to “get back to work” and had little stamina to take care of their most important job: solving the toughest problems for the entire business.

A Simple Structure for Healthy Teams

The best part about the daily meeting is how simple the structure is – yet that’s also the challenge – and the easiest way to kill its efficacy. When the daily meeting gets too long or involved it can bog a team down instead of increasing communication and cohesion. While there’s more than one way to effectively hold this meeting, here’s a simple structure that can help:

  • Setting
    • Everyone stands up (even if you are on the phone) to emphasize that this is a quick,10-minute meeting.
    • Host the meeting 10 minutes prior to the hour to force the meeting end on time.
    • Open a conference line if others are traveling or located in different offices.
    • Don’t worry about 100 percent attendance, but do watch for outliers who miss it consistently.
  • Structure
    • Do a quick lightning round where each member states what they are working on that day.
    • If time permits, here are some follow up questions to make the most of your time together.
      • What’s one thing you are working on that you need help with?
      • Which meeting are you looking forward to the most today? Least?
      • What’s one thing you are doing that the team doesn’t know about but they probably should?
      • What’s the biggest distraction for you to focus on your priorities?
      • Who’s a person on your team that needs additional attention or management right now?
  • If team members need to have a follow-up conversation, let them do it just after the meeting, not during.
  • Close the meeting and head to your next priority (without potential distractions).

If you are a member of cohesive team, you will likely adopt this meeting fairly easily, but the meeting doesn’t make a team by itself. It may not feel natural at first. However, the many teams who have given this meeting a try – and trust the process – see great benefits. Focus on the value and recognize that if you don’t have a check-in meeting you are likely losing greater productivity in other areas.