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Internal Evaluation TIG Week: Why the Beginning of a Meeting Matters by Lenka Berkowitz

Photograph of the author Lenka Berkowitz

Hi, my name is Lenka Berkowitz (she/her) and I’m an Evaluation Manager for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a national nonprofit that works with the school community to promote healthy environments for young people. I’d like to talk to you about virtual meetings that we have in our evaluation (and other) work and what I believe can set a good meeting apart from the rest – the beginning. This is not a blog post about how to run a good meeting but about how to use the first 5-10 minutes to connect with the rest of the meeting participants and why that matters. 

Because many workplaces are driven by the sense of urgency stemming from white supremacy culture, we often dive right into business in meetings. There have been many times when I was “running” from one meeting to the next, laser-focused on accomplishing my tasks forgetting the most important thing – the people in the “room” and the relationships we have (or hope to build over time). I see the beginning of a meeting as an opportunity to pause and connect with one another and see how each person is showing up for the meeting and, thus for the work. I find this important because Energy leadership teaches us that the energy we bring into a space is contagious. Even a small connection can change the energy in the virtual room and set you up for a more productive meeting. 

Lessons Learned 

  • Explain why. If you are new to incorporating a check-in into your meetings, explain why you are doing so. I found check-ins helpful in reminding myself that I’m working with full humans that include multitudes beyond their job description.  
  • Words matter. Some people are more receptive to the word check-in because they have negative feelings about ice-breakers. The concept of a check-in comes from The Circle Way, which places importance on being present, active listening, and connection. 
  • Check-ins are context specific. While deeper reflection may work for smaller groups of participants who are already familiar with each other, a fun check-in question may work with larger, less familiar groups.
  • It’s an invitation. Make sure you always frame a check-in as an invitation, never forcing people (directly or indirectly) to participate. 
  • Get feedback. Ask your meeting participants if they have a check-in question idea, making sure you are discussing what is important/interesting to them.
  • It takes time and a change in mindset. Especially if you are used to going right down to business, people may be reluctant to “waste” time on a check-in. Some will see the benefits over time, and some won’t, and that’s okay.

Rad Resources 

  • I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s two-word check-in to gauge how people are feeling. 
  • Another option is to invite people to share an emoji or a GIF that represents how they are arriving into the meeting in a chat. 
  • I’m also a big fan of embodied practices such as a short meditation or taking 3 deep breaths together. 
  • Try using Mentimeter, especially with larger groups. It’s anonymous and participants can see their answers in real-time.
  • Search the Parabol database for ideas.  Here are some of my favorite questions I’ve enjoyed over the years:
    • What have you learned recently?
    • What’s one thing that brings you energy and joy?
    • When was the last time you turned your phone off?
    • What did you do for self-care recently?
    • What would you do if you came home and found a penguin in your freezer?
    • When zombies attack, how will you defend the world?

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Internal Evaluation (IE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our IE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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