Thought Leadership Articles

    Why Checking in with your Team is not just Small Talk

    Aug 19, 2022 | Posted by Belinda Cuthbert

    Are you a people manager who’s team is going through significant change?

    Some of the toughest parts of being a people manager relate directly to communicating change. For example; how best to deliver a message, how to interact with your team, and knowing how to handle a situation in which you don’t have all the required information.

    In order for you to support and encourage your team through change, it’s vitally important to communicate the change well, and to allow them the platform to share with you their thoughts and concerns around the change, without fear of repercussion.

    CMC’s 5C model helps managers apply the five critical components to all team change meetings. Like any good recipe, the 5C model combines key ingredients and follows a step-by-step process to produce the best results when managers discuss workplace change with their team.

    The 5C Model

    Every C in the 5C model is critical to having effective engagements about change. The Cs follow a specific running order, which looks like this:

    • Check-in: Safely establish each person’s emotional state regarding the change
    • Context: Unpack the business context for the change
    • Content: Unpack the facts that affect the team
    • Conversation: Converse about what the change means for the team and individuals in the team
    • Circle back: Allow for opportunities to gather more information and answer team questions

    We often hear from managers that there ‘just isn’t enough time’ to follow such an intricate engagement process. Unfortunately, managers often sacrifice check-in to save time. This unfortunate choice can negatively affect how a team processes the change.

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    Why a check-in is not just small talk

    Let’s first define what we mean by a ‘check-in’. A check-in is a planned activity at the start of a team meeting where a change is to be discussed. Unlike an icebreaker, a check-in is not meant to help team members get to know each other more. Unlike an energiser, a check-in is not about creating an energy boost. Instead, a check-in is a manager’s opportunity to establish how every team member feels about the change at hand. If done correctly, this quick yet vital activity also helps establish a safe space for the team to engage without fear.

    What a check-in might look like

    A check-in is a round-robin process, so everyone gets to share how they feel, no matter how junior or senior they are. You can run the exercise virtually or in person. The responses can be verbal, written, visual, or a mixture of all three methods. A check-in could be as simple as asking the team to answer one (yes, one is more than enough) of these questions:

    • How do you feel about this change right now?
    • What part of this change is challenging you the most?
    • What is the strongest emotion this change stirs up in you?

    Can you see how a check-in is more than just small talk? Starting your change meetings this way lets everyone in the room feel they are seen and heard, and it creates the climate for people to be present during the remainder of the meeting. Equally important is the fact that team responses help managers be more sensitive as they run the remainder of the session. Empathy for everyone’s emotional state will allow a mature manager and team to regulate their responses during the rest of the meeting. We aim to establish a team climate where colleagues feel safe to speak their minds without fear of repercussion or criticism. A check-in helps us establish this overall climate and commitment to one another for the rest of the meeting.

    What a check-in is not

    Check-ins are not about creating a climate of harmony where everyone agrees with everything said. It is also not the place to contradict or judge colleagues’ views. A check-in should never lead to a place of rejection, fear, or retribution. Instead, it is the starting point for colleagues to be heard so that they can safely explore what the change means for each individual personally.

    Troubleshooting your check-ins

    1. I have too little time to get a response from everyone. Even a short response from every member is better than skipping the check-in altogether. Consider asking participants to give a one-word answer as your work around the room. Or use a polling app in a virtual meeting where attendees can submit their responses simultaneously. If you would like an in-depth check-in but don’t have the time, consider dividing the team into smaller groups where they can have simultaneous check-ins.

    2. Sharing emotions might feel too personal. Be considerate of group dynamics and personal circumstances. Never force members to share verbally when they feel uncomfortable or if there is reason to believe they might be victimised for their vulnerability. In these cases, choose one of the many meeting tools available that allow for anonymous sharing. Just because you anticipate tough answers doesn’t mean you should avoid the exercise altogether. Always handle sensitive responses wisely and with the appropriate level of trust and respect.

    3. My team will not open up about their emotions. Sometimes individuals might feel vulnerable to share their emotions. Or they may feel so emotional that they cannot put words to these feelings. This is an excellent time to use a ‘pick-my-mood’ exercise where attendees can pick their mood from a list of words, a scale of emotions, a selection of colours, or a selection of mood pictures.

      Mood pictures can be anything from photos of varying seasons to a selection of animals with expressive faces. Adding an element of fun using non-human objects can help lighten the atmosphere while still allowing attendees to express a difficult mood. Based on your time and the climate of the meeting, you could ask members to elaborate on their ‘pick-my-mood’ choice either in the main group, in smaller groups, or with you individually after the meeting.

    Check-ins send a strong message

    A check-in is not small talk nor a waste of time. A well-run check-in can help a manager send these vital messages to team members: I see you in the room. I acknowledge that change impacts you emotionally. I recognise your unique reaction to the change. The team will not isolate you because of your views.

    So the next time you consider cutting the ‘small talk’ at the start of your change meetings, remember that it is critical to present a structured and intentional opportunity for team members, including you, to share how they feel. This starting point can catapult the conversation in a direction that moves colleagues to support each other and the change that connects them.

    If you’re interested in improving your change communication skills in your role as a people manager, do consider our Communication for People Managers Skill Builder for Change. Gain tools and templates that will help you feel more confident and capable when communicating change to your employees.

    Topics: Getting Started with Change Management