Start Every Meeting with a Personal Check-in

It happens quite occasionally that I find myself (metaphorically) running from one meeting to the next. I say metaphorically because in a remote and distributed team, you tend to jump from one video or conference call to the next (Who just joined?).

I’ve barely processed the outcomes from the previous meeting, let alone written them down, nor did I stop to take a deep breath and mentally brace myself for the next meeting, which covers potentially entirely different topics.

Staying focused and being present is one part of this equation. The other is that meetings can be exhausting. Even when they’re well-run meetings, the mental drainage is real. Beyond that, we may not always be fit enough to even fully participate in these meetings.

The worst part is that we tend to be too uncomfortable to say it. Saying how we feel makes us feel vulnerable, and it shouldn’t matter because meetings are all about business.

The meeting starts and progresses, we may or may not be present. Other people will notice, they’ll be frustrated just like you might already be. The meeting ends. People walk away thinking this was a waste of time.

I have Jerry from Reboot to thank for the advice that follows. We’ve just started putting it into practice in our Leadership Team. A hat tip to Bart Lorang for having this bubble back up into view.

Take a deep breath

Last year I started adopting a habit of meditating every morning. It turned around my days from feeling rushed and losing my head. It helped me be more present in meetings, to not let my feelings rush out of me, and to just listen and speak what’s on my mind.

I start my meditation session with a couple of deep breaths. Those can do wonders. I close my eyes, inhale deeply three times, before I settle in and start my session.

Three deep breaths can have a magical impact, and you can adopt them for your meetings.

Before you walk into a meeting (virtually or into the meeting room), close your eyes, inhale three times, and walk in. I found that this can have a great impact on my presence and focus in meetings.

Personal Check-in

We’ve recently started extending our leadership team meetings to start out with a personal check-in. We go around in the circle and ask everyone how they’re feeling.

We use the red/yellow/green scale that Jerry and Bart talk about. Each of us gives an indication of where they’re at.

  • Red means you you’re in a very emotional state (angry or frustrated), you’re not feeling well, ill, or you’re sick.
  • Yellow means that you’re not fully present. Maybe you’re feeling distracted by something, there’s some tension, or you can’t get a clear line of thoughts.
  • Green means that you’re A okay. You’re calm, you’re fully present, you feel good, you think clearly, you feel productive and rested.

Afterwards everyone says why. How much detail you divulge to your team is up to you. The why should provide enough context for everyone to have an understanding of where everyone else is at.

A note if you’re in the green: try to figure out why that is as much as you talk about why you’re not feeling well.

Before you enter a meeting, and after you’ve taken a deep breath (or two, or three), first check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling, if you’re calm, present and focused.

Figuring out what makes you calm, present, or thinking clearly is just as important as knowing why you’re not. Because put simply, you should do more of whatever it is that makes you green.

We’re all people

Adopting the practice of personal check-ins can have an interesting effect.

It normalizes open vulnerability. As the CEO, I always start. I want to make it okay that we talk about how we are and how we feel. Empathy is one of our core values at Travis CI, and we accept that feelings are an important part of a conversation. Vulnerability also helps build trust in a team, as it fosters being completely open with each other.

It sets the stage for the meeting. Instead of being frustrated with someone because they’re not present or don’t appear focus, we get context. We know why they’re not fully present, and we can empathize with that, even structure our meeting in a way that helps them.

It makes it clear that we’re all people. You can’t feel great every single day. The reasons for that can go way beyond how you feel about or at work. Your presence, focus and general well-being are affected by your personal life too.

Try it out for your next team meeting. Start with why this is important and take the first step. If your team isn’t open to this yet, try doing it for yourself first. Looking out for each other is just as important in a team as looking out for yourself.