Check-in in a Circle

When I kick off a class or workshop, I want participants to engage as soon as possible after entering the room. I do work through some practical bits first, but after that I quickly hand things over to participants.

For a long time, I’ve been using an opening exercise I learned from Ken Schwaber. In it, I ask participants to sort themselves along a line in the room, according to different criteria.

First, I ask the group to sort itself according to how effective and efficient their current project is (in Swedish, a single word has the connotation of both “effective” and “efficient”). Once sorted, people take turns sharing their situation. Doing this, participants come to see what a wide range of different experiences are present in the room.

After this, participants get to sort themselves again, this time according to the level of energy they perceive in that same project. Really low energy in one end, and high in the other. We talk about it again.

Finally, we do the same thing, this time based on how much experience and knowledge of Scrum the participants feel they have.

Earlier this summer, I participated in a terrific one-week workshop with organizational development pioneers Charles and Edie Seashore. The name of the workshop was “Intentional Use of Self”.

In one part of the workshop, we talked about how check-ins are an important part of helping a workshop group come together. We also did check-ins every morning. One format we used was based on a fishbowl. Charles and Edie would ask one small part of the group to step into the middle, and tell each other about some thing.

Today, I decided to try this format out. I asked people in the class to step into the fishbowl based on how long they had been using Scrum.

First, I asked those with no experience to step in and talk to each other about their current situation and their expectations for the course. After that, those with a few months of experience got to share. Then those with up to a couple of years experience.

Finally, those of us with longer experience (I joined the fishbowl myself here) stepped into the inner circle a told each other about our experiences and expectations.

Here’s what I like about Charles’ and Edie’s check-in:

  • Participants face each other, not just me
  • In a circle, it’s easier to speak up
  • When you do speak, you speak with a smaller group
  • Everyone else can still hear you
  • The fishbowl circle puts more emphasis on the likenesses we share, whereas the line creates an exposed situation for those on the ends of a line.
  • We still get to see the different experiences available in the group

It’s a simple but powerful check-in format. I’m fascinated by the fact that I had to travel half-way around the world to pick it up. I’m glad I did.

Do you facilitate workshops or teach classes? Do you use check-ins? What kinds of check-ins have you tried so far?

One response

  1. Thanks for sharing this.

    Sharon Bowman writes a lot about what she calls Warm-Up activities in her book ‘Training From the Back of the Room”. She differentiates these from ice-breakers because they are activities that relate to the course content material – frequently requiring the participants to have tried to learn something prior to the training (for the purpose of the exercise). The check in that you describe sounds very similar to her warm-ups, though without the explicit assignment of work prior to the course. I like the circle concept as well.

    The Check-in protocol of Jim and Michele McCarthy’s (see Software for Your Head) help teams get settled into a meeting, get emotions off their mind, and start putting their attention and energy into the work – fully engaged. Very effective and useful if done with the full commitment and intent of the Core Commitments. See http://www.mccarthyshow.com/download-the-core/ for downloading these protocols.

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