Check-ins (incl. Levels of Attention)

What is this method?

Check-ins are a way for people to have a dedicated space to share on a more personal level what’s happening within them. When practiced regularly and authentically, a teams purpose, coherence and trust can increase.

How does the process look like?

The process is quite straightforward:

  1. You have either an open check-in where the people are co-responsible for the time and however long it takes is right. Or you have different options to define the timing: either per person (e.g. 5min per person) or for the total check-in (we have 30min time)

  2. Then one person starts and you either go around in a circle or you do “popcorn”, where whoever feels like going next can go

  3. What you may choose to share: thoughts, intentions, feelings, facts, needs, intuitions, tensions, wants and wishes

Now beyond the process what makes this method powerful is how people are present and making use of the space. Or in other words: The inner place from where we come from.

This inner place, is according to Otto Scharmers Theory U the “collective blindspot of our time”. You can think of this inner place as the difference between waking up either feeling stressed or relaxed and how this impacts your first interactions with the people around you. This inner state of being has great influence on the quality and content of our interactions. Below, using the three dimensions of the Theory U, are some suggestions on what you can pay attention to. There exist many theories, practices and approaches to create authentic spaces of relating to one another, oneself, and beyond, hence this is not an exclusive nor extensive list of suggestion

The different levels of attention from the Theory U (Source:  Presencing Institute )

The different levels of attention from the Theory U (Source: Presencing Institute)

Open Mind - Suspending voice of judgement (VoJ)

  • The underlying dynamic of the VoJ is to reconfirm existing mental models and world-views. It closes down the mind and tries to protect you from new ideas or information.

  • Notice your own voice of judgement. What is “good” to share? What is “bad”? Right? Wrong?

  • Suspend the judgement. That is, it is not about contradicting it or suppressing it. Rather the suggestion is to suspend it, to loose the attachment towards it.

  • The driving attitude is curiosity: “Why might this person think, feel and experience life like this?”

Open Heart - Suspending voice of cynicism (VoC)

  • The underlying dynamic of the VoC is to close the heart by being cynical about other peoples intentions or potential outcomes. It’s trying to protect you from emotionally connecting.

  • Notice your voice of cynicism and/or your body language: where are you “ridiculing” the situation? Notice self-talk that, observed from taking one step back, sounds cynical to you. Again, try to suspend that “talk” in your inner self-dialogue.

  • Play in your mind with the idea of what would be, if it actually was different? If that output would actually be possible? If people did, in fact, have their best intentions at heart?

  • Move your attention beyond your own perspective. How might the situation be perceived through the experience of someone else?

  • The driving attitude is compassion, with yourself and others. Questions that might be helpful to ask yourself are: “What changes, if I believe that everyone is doing their best possible contribution they can make in this moment?” “How can I have compassion with the circumstances that are driving our behavior?”

Open Will - Suspending voice of fear (VoF)

  • The underlying dynamic of the VoF is to shut down action and move you away from “taking the leap”. You can think of this voice as your subconscious that is sensing that “something would change” if a certain action would be taken, an assumption and its implications really accepted. The voice of fear tries to protect you from the danger of the unknown. It can activate strong reactions as we are in little or larger ways asked to let go of an idea of who we are and who we might be.

  • Notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice in what ways these thoughts might be attached to your sense of self. Notice how your feelings are making certain assumptions feel very real that, looked from one step further away, may not seem as certain anymore.

  • Depending on the kind of transition at hand, suspending the VoF may be a longer process of weeks or even years or just a question of some instances. Breath into the possibility.

  • Create the adequate space for yourself to sit with the question at hand.

  • Smaller transitions may include questions like: “can I do this?”, “Do I understand enough?” or simply “do I have enough time?”

  • Bigger transitions may be around questions like: “Who am I, if in fact I don’t care as much about XYZ as I thought?”, “What if I actually don’t want to be a XYZ?” or “What am I here for, if I really take into consideration all the implications our way of living has on the planet?”

  • In one way or another, the VoF asks us to let go of something and to let come. We can not really know what might come without authentically letting go too.

  • The driving attitude here is courage. Courage to step into the unknown and embrace the potential to change and be changed by what is unfolding.

The purpose of these further explanations is to become aware that a check-in per se doesn’t deliver the results of trust, connection, purpose, emotional and psychological safety and courageous action. It is, rather, the way we intentionally use this space that makes the difference. This said, there’s only one way to start: be curious, compassionate and courageous as you start practicing :)

Needed tools, materials, people etc.

  • Time: from 10min up to one hour

  • Setting: a circle, without laptops or a table between if possible

  • Materials: you may choose to have a check-in question to guide

Sources and further reading:

Our Experience with this Method

Check-ins are a full-spectrum-technology

Check-ins have become by now a part of my life. When I (Osi) am meeting up with friends, colleagues and new work-relationships I offer to “check-in”. A check-in, at first, is nothing more than saying, “Hey, here’s a door that we can walk through, if we choose to do so, before we continue walking the corridor we already know well enough”. It’s an invitation and opportunity to share some of our humanity (our being) before engaging with everything we can, want and have to do. Because check-ins have become such an integrated part of my practice as a facilitator, social innovator, friend and human it’s difficult to pick one experience. Hence I want to talk in more general terms about checking-in.

I’ve experienced check-ins that after that required another check-in round and another and yet another round. This were quite unique moments that have deeply impacted me and the relationship I hold to the individuals I practiced this check-in with. It was in these kind of check-ins where I was confronted just by listening to another person sharing, unexpectedly but unmistakably, with beliefs I held about the world and myself that I didn’t know. And as I was listening I started suspending what normally would have been my automatic response. In that little moment I was experiencing, just for a little moment, what life would look like if I was free from the belief of let’s say, “not being enough”.

“Not being enough” is such an ubiquitous phenomenon in our society. There’s so much I can intellectually know, understand and talk about. But in this very moment of just witnessing another person sharing in all realness and openness what “not being enough” looks, feels, tastes like and how eventually, in that person's experience, the situation shifted, helped me lower my threshold that was blocking me from experiencing that same shift. And within an instance memories came flooding where I had experienced not the same but something similar. As the round continued and also my other colleagues started to share what was happening within them in the very moment a collective moment of transformation just occurred.

Now I know that transformation is a big word. And widely overused too. But one thing I can say, I am only using this term now in the retrospective. Back then, after several rounds of sharing I was just feeling overwhelmed, unable to really focus on what previously had seemed so important but after these rounds had become largely trivial. I had judgements as to “why should we do these rounds if they keep us from working?” and more. It was only with time that I could more and more see, feel and sense the incredible effect that moments had in terms of uncovering the underlying coherence of our group that enabled us to know each other in such intuitive ways that then had immediate effects on the long-term effectiveness of our work.

This experience is hard to convey if you haven’t experienced something similar as well. My personal belief is that we all know it, because it’s just part of being human. But that we often don’t recognize it as a unique state of being, an altered state of consciousness were other doors of possibility open. We are not used to that kind of “work”.

Now, all of this has very little to do with the “method” of checking-in. And that is exactly my point. What makes this method useful and effective aren’t the technicalities. It’s almost uniquely determined by the quality of presence that the people bring to the rounds. The willingness to suspend individual and collective judgements (e.g. “This is taking too much time” or “that’s not appropriate to say”) and shift to a state of suspension were we instead of reacting observe our own process to what is being said. It’s in this space where a first door for a deeper connection opens. That door, formulated as a question, can be called “How must it be like to be in the totality of that other person’s experience?” In moments that can never be planned another door might open, with the power to create powerful shifts in conversation and the perception of Self and Other.

All this said, it’s been the rarest of things to meet and experience that kind of quality of listening and sharing. Most of my experiences in doing check-ins are beautiful and stay at a level that isn’t transformative per se though it always makes me feel more connected with the people I am in a conversation with. Which I, as a people-loving person really enjoy and have come to realise as one of my core-needs I have to deliver ordinary and extraordinary work.