How to formulate suitable check-in questions – what I have observed

“Check-in questions are childish,” so one member of the development team stated, which stimulated a vibrant discussion that filled our 15 minutes during our daily. “If we want to reach our goals, we need to be efficient and serious about our work.”As a reflective person, I certainly scrutinized this statement and made a thorough investigation of the relevancy of check-in questions. And guess what I found? Check-in questions are not childish.Why do we even “check in”? Why do we need to arrive? What benefit do we expect from asking a supposedly “random” question at the beginning of a meeting?

  • A check-in question strengthens the interpersonal net among the team.
  • It sets the tenants for a productive and effective meeting.
  • It invites everyone to speak and hence makes it easier for everyone to talk again.

Before the serious business starts, it is an excellent method to deflate the “tension-balloon” and to talk about something everyone can contribute to; a topic that needs less rational thinking and rather stimulates an intuitive answer.

The art of the question matters

Think about it like this: Everyone comes to work in a certain mood, has hobbies, specific topics of interests or recent happenings that circulate his or her minds. I believe that you can get every person to speak about something they are passionate or currently thinking about.

It is about who

However, I have observed that the challenge lies within the “who.” Who am I sharing these thoughts with? Some individuals consider topics outside the scope of their business (e.g., philosophical, fictive, abstract questions) as personal and intimate; subjects they feel uncomfortable sharing in a large group of colleagues. Check-in questions hence become vexing and not pleasant.

How do I deal with it?

  1. Know your audienceAre you dealing with a loquacious, young-spirited, very open-minded, knowledge-seeking and sharing team or is your team filled with timid, closed-minded, not very cooperative individuals? Or even a mix of both?
  2. Formulate check-in questions that suit your audienceThe more non-cooperative and closed-minded your team, the less likely it is to be successful with personal or fictive questions (e.g., What do you appreciate about yourself?). I have noticed that answering rating and guessing questions positively correlates with closed-minded teams, provided that the question is pragmatic, non-personal and relevant. For mixed teams choose questions that are fun, non-personal, value-creating; and for open-minded teams make sure your question is fun or challenging, informative and creative.
  3. Make participation voluntarily but very attractiveClarify, that answering check-in questions is voluntarily, but make them damn attractive to answer. Make people want to be part of the discussion.

Here are a few example questions for each group:

Open-minded

  • If your firm was a car, which car would it be?
  • Imagine you were immortal and could choose one age forever, what age would it be?
  • Share one information about yourself that would surprise your co-workers!
  • What is the best advice someone ever gave to you/you ever heard?
  • How do you relieve stress?
  • Tell us your best joke!

Closed-minded

  • Guess how many aggregated story points we have reached over the last four sprints!
  • What are you most worried about at work this month?
  • My take away from the previous sprint is …
  • What is the number one expectation you hold towards a Scrum Master?
  • What does it take to accelerate the teams’ velocity?

Mixed

  • Describe the work culture you could most like strive in!
  • What do you appreciate about your co-workers? A compliment you’ve kept for yourself?
  • What goal have you set for your work this year?
  • How does the person sitting next to you feel?
  • What is the last app you downloaded on your phone and why?

Consequently, a team that communicates well works well together. Vivid check-in time is an indicator for an open-minded and motivated team. Know your audience and slip in questions that trigger a conversation.Lastly, a tip I learned from my colleague: The word “check-in question” may put people off – ask the question without mentioning that you are about to ask a check-in question.

Agile Toolbox
Scrum
Scrum Meetings
Retrospective
Lucy Larbi
December 12, 2018

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