Check In & Check Out – Core Protocols
Ever work with a Team and the whole group wants to go in one direction, except for one person who digs in and refuses to budge? This happened to me a few weeks back while teaching a Product Owner class and I was completely stumped. I like to consider myself a pretty good facilitator with an abundance of tools to help me out in situations like this. Unfortunately, everything I tried did not work and I was loosing the patience of the larger group as I tried to work through this one person’s objections. Finally, I threw up my hands and said, “OK…we’re done with this activity since we are not in agreement on how to go forward.” Not my best work.
Generally, the key to avoiding these situations where one person stops the forward progress of the group is by having a clear agenda, taking time to set expectations and review the agenda with participants before the session and a good set of ground rules. All good stuff covered in Collaboration Explained. Additionally, I tell all my students they can pass any activity in my courses and do not have to give a reason why, just say, “Pass.” So what went wrong?
I had a participant who had checked out from the work of the Team and sadly felt compelled to remain with the group. Since he was uninterested in the work of the group, his goal was to make the group interactions as short as possible so that the class would end early. What would have helped me was to have a tool to allow this person to disconnect from the group. That way, the Team could do what they wanted to and the other person could do what they wanted (which he thought was more valuable). As it turns out, the Core Protocols have exactly the tools I needed, the Check In and Check Out protocols. I suggest you review them before your next meeting or group interaction since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
When you participate in the Core, your physical presence signifies your engagement with the Team, the work of the Team and adherence to the Core Commitments. The Check In protocol allow us to know, “Are you connected to the group or are you just physically here?” and is used at the beginning of any meeting or group interaction. Check In avoids the situation when people are physically present, but not connected to the group in any meaningful way. We have all seen these people at meetings. They feel trapped, perhaps a bit resentful and just waste the Team’s time.
The Check In protocol is quite simple and direct.
- The speaker says “I feel [one or more of MAD, SAD, GLAD, AFRAID].” The speaker may provide a brief explanation. If the speaker does not choose to disclose their feelings and wants to participate in the group, the speaker has the option to say, “I pass.”
- Next the speaker says “I’m in.” This signifies that the speaker intends to behave according to the Core Commitments.
- The listeners respond “Welcome.”
- The speaker remains silent as they listen to the Check Ins of others.
So if you Check In, you have got to have a way to Check Out or you are stuck in the Core forever (while powerful, no one wants that). The Check Out protocol is super basic, but extremely effective. Please note the highlighted, underlined and bolded text in capital letters- Check Out means you leave at once, not later.
- The speaker says “I’m Checking Out.”
- The speaker then MUST IMMEDIATELY, PHYSICALLY LEAVE THE GROUP until they are ready to Check In once again. Optionally, the speaker can say when they believe they will return (if it is known and relevant).
- Those who are present for the Check Out may not follow the person, talk to or about the person Checking Out or otherwise chase him or her.
Working with the the Core can be intense. Everyone needs a little space from time-to-time and time be alone with their thoughts. Check Out is a safe and respectful way to show people that you need a break and allow the Team to continue with what they feel is important. Some common signs that you may want to consider a Check Out are when your emotional state is hindering your success, if your receptivity to new information is too low or if you do not know what you want from a Team interaction.
When you Check Out, do it as calmly and gracefully as possible. This is not an opportunity to unleash an emotional tirade or draw attention to yourself. Check Out simply means you are unable to contribute at the present time and it would be better for you (and the Team) if you disconnected for a while. Think of this protocol as a release value or a time out. Finally, when others Check Out, do not judge, shame, hassle, interrogate or punish them.