Staying Present by Checking In

Monday was the start of our annual All-Hands Week, and for the first time ever, it really felt like a big deal. Team members flew in from the Philippines, Connecticut, Portland, and the Bay Area for a full week of planning, bonding, working, and playing at our Santa Monica HQ. For some of us, it would be the first time meeting each other face-to-face (excluding video calls).

I wanted to start the week in as meaningful a way as possible. So, after coffee, donuts, and some surprise gifts for the team, I decided to kick things off with a simple, open framework that I've seen to be effective: personal check-ins.

Why Check-Ins?

We have a full week planned, so I knew that staying focused and present would be a challenge. After all, a whole week of meetings with the team can daunting! Even when there are timely and engaging meetings to look forward to, the mental drainage and decision fatigue is real. It's not always realistic to be "fit" enough—mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually—to fully participate 100% of the time.

Oftentimes, I'm going from meeting to video call to conference call in a single day, so I totally get this. I don't have time to fully process the outcomes from the previous meeting, let alone write them down, before I'm off to the next meeting. I also rarely have time to stop, take a deep breath, and mentally brace myself for the next meeting, which usually covers entirely new topics.

We tend to be too uncomfortable and unfocused to say that we're uncomfortable and unfocused. This creates tension that is palpable and noticeable to everyone involved. Saying how we feel makes us feel vulnerable, but we have this false belief that, since meetings are all about work, communicating our vulnerability shouldn’t matter.

Here's my worst case scenario: our All-Hands Session starts, and we may or may not be present. Everyone notices and the frustrations rise. The week ends, the meetings are over, and the team goes home thinking, "This was a waste of time." We've all been in these situations. It's what I want to avoid by consciously starting from a more centered and open spot.

How It Works

To kick off our week, we all sat in a circle and went around the room, sharing how we were feeling.

I used a simple red/yellow/green framework. Teammates gave an indication of where they were at emotionally using this simple scale:

  • Red meant that they were in a very emotional state (angry, afraid, or frustrated), or that they were feeling sick.

  • Yellow meant that they weren't fully present. Maybe they were feeling tension, feeling distracted by someone or something (e.g. the U.S. political climate, maybe?), or they just couldn't muster up a clear line of thought.

  • Green meant that they were good. They felt calm, fully present, thinking clearly, feeling productive, and well-rested.

In addition to providing a color, everyone explained why they picked that color. It was up to the person to determine how much detail—either personal or professional—was divulged. The reason behind this exercise was to provide enough context to have an understanding of where everyone was at.

For those in the green, this wasn't a hall pass. Figuring out why people were feeling good was just as important as figuring out why they were feeling bad. It's important to share the ups and the downs.

Because we were kicking off an entire week of activities while simultaneously getting to know each other as a group, I also asked everyone to share what they wanted to get out of our time together.

Remember—we’re all human.

At Reaction Commerce, communication is one of our core values. We understand that feelings and empathy are also an important part of the conversation. Adopting the practice of personal check-ins normalizes open vulnerability, which also helps build trust in a team. I want to make it okay to talk about how we're doing and how we feel.

This not only sets the stage for the rest of the week, but for the culture of the team. Instead of feeling frustrated with someone because they aren't present or don’t appear focused, we're given context. When we know why someone isn't fully present, we can extend empathy and even structure our meetings in a way that helps them.

We’re all human. It's not realistic to feel great every single day, and sometimes, it's not always about work. Even as a cofounder, my personal life can still affect my presence, focus, and general well-being.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, I'm a huge fan of personal check-ins. I highly encourage you to incorporate them into your next team meeting! Take the first step—start with explaining why check-ins are important. If your team isn’t open to this yet, try doing it for yourself first. Looking out for your team is just as important as looking out for yourself.

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