Never underestimate the power of simple check-in questions.
It might seem like a small gesture, but check-ins are key for solid communication between you and your team members. In this article, we’ll cover common check-in themes, sample questions, and other helpful considerations to help you get the most out of your team’s feedback.
Healthy communication themes
Communication patterns, especially between leaders and direct reports, can have a material impact on a range of outputs from efficiency to engagement and retention. The framing of check-ins generally skews positive, neutral, or negative.
- Positive: "How's that report on widget theory coming along—any support I can provide?"
- Neutral: "Do you have that report on widget theory finished?"
- Negative: "I asked for that widget theory report yesterday. Where is it?"
While all of these questions involve the topics “widget theory and deadlines,” the outcomes of those three questions can differ dramatically depending on the delivery. In other words, good check-in outcomes rely on well-formed check-in questions.
Check-ins vs. micromanagement
While a check-in can be helpful and motivating, micromanagement is counterproductive. With some self-awareness, your check-in questions can communicate your well-meaning intentions.
Here are the three key metrics for measuring a check-in:
- Cadence (the rhythm your check-ins follow):
- Context (how well the check-in fits the situation)
- Cause (your goal for checking in)
As facilitators and leaders, it helps when you understand these elements and why they matter so that you deliver check-in questions that uplift and empower the recipient.
The cadence is too short if the answer isn't likely to change since the last check-in.
That said, a cadence that goes too long between check-ins can be problematic too. If you ask a direct report how happy they are with their job for the first time in five years, you've likely missed multiple opportunities to provide support and guidance along the way.
You can test the cadence of your check-in questions by setting up recurring Pollys to see what feels optimal for your team.
If you ask check-in questions while the team is on a tight deadline, that's an example of poor context.
If you check in about how you can remove obstacles after hearing about them in the daily stand-up, you can get some practical information and help to foster a culture of teamwork.
If you're checking in because you want to provide support after a team meeting that covered a complex project, there's a greater chance you'll get candid and helpful responses. On the flip-side, if your check-in questions don't provide value or the team member doesn't see any positive changes resulting from their input, it's less likely to inspire the same positive response.
Do this before you check in
A successful check-in strategy hinges on the balance of individual and mutual benefit. Before asking check-in questions, use this simple litmus test.
Is this check-in:
- Asked often enough?
- Asked too often?
Is this check-in:
- Contextual to the situation?
- Relevant to the recipient?
Is this check-in:
- For my benefit?
- For their benefit?
- For our mutual benefit?
How to get great answers
You're ready to start asking great check-in questions, but how do you ensure you get helpful answers? Part of a successful strategy is formatting the questions to make it easy for your audience to provide quality responses.
There are two fundamental types of data you'd hope to capture:
- Quantitative data: This data can easily be quantified, codified, and viewed in aggregate. Quantitative answers can happen faster and take less mental bandwidth to give.
- Qualitative data: This data that cannot easily be quantified, codified, and viewed in aggregate. Qualitative answers usually require more time and reflection.
As you're forming or choosing check-in questions, ask:
- "What do I need to learn from this exchange?"
- "Why do I need to learn that?"
- "What will I do with the knowledge?"
With these answers, it will become clear whether to rely on qualitative or quantitative data or a mix of both for your check-ins.
21 crucial check-in questions by theme
Let's dive into a list of example check-in questions that you can use as early as after today's meeting. They're separated into categories to make finding the right questions more manageable, but you may find some of the questions to be dual-purpose.
👋 General wellbeing check-ins
Employee wellbeing has reverberating effects across an entire organization. Check-in on wellbeing and make it easier to pinpoint opportunities to support employee needs.
❓ How are you doing?
Care to elaborate?
This broad and qualitative question is one of the most crucial check-in questions to ask. This quick scale can lead to much deeper learning since it allows recipients to share in a qualitative follow-up format.
❓Did you feel supported this past week by leadership?
Yes | Mostly | At Times | Infrequently | No
Leadership support is one of the most important things an organization can provide employees.
It's crucial to develop and maintain a consistent plan to provide that support. This investment of effort provides better work outcomes and can help to reduce turnover.
❓I have a good work-life balance.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
Many factors can play a part when establishing a work-life balance. That's why a numeric range can be a great starting point to begin to understand the relative levels of balance across your team.
This number might vary between individuals and their shifting daily routines, so it helps to follow up with a qualitative question and pick out the trends. Here are a few examples of qualitative follow-up questions:
- If satisfied, how can we continue to support this work-life balance?
- If unsatisfied, what is an example of something that’s currently missing from your work-life balance?
- What is your personal definition of work-life balance?
👊 Tactical check-ins
Tactical questions are focused, which makes them comparatively easier and quicker to answer.
❓Do you feel like you have enough time to complete your tasks?
Yes | No
Capacity planning is a key aspect of effective management and leadership. If your team doesn't have time to complete their work, it's an opportunity to consider how the work is delegated or how you can support their workflow.
❓Do you feel like you have enough information to complete your work?
Yes | No
With the right information, the work becomes easier. Not all tasks are clear, so providing more clarity and guidance where it’s needed can help people move forward with them.
❓What is one thing that went well with your project this week?
This is an opportunity to learn what your teammates find exciting or engaging about their work, and it can help you guide them towards new responsibilities and roles as they grow.
❓What are some challenges you faced this month with your work?
This question uncovers hidden obstacles your team faces. Sometimes, it's an easy enough thing for you to fix. This question should address more overarching issues so can be asked less frequently, while a more precisely targeted question can be aimed at the day-to-day blocks.
❓Are you blocked on anything this week?
Yes | No
If so, where do you need support?
Removing blocks helps to increase your team's momentum. It can alleviate stress and frustration if they can count on you to help with blocks that emerge while the project is underway. This check-in should be asked somewhat frequently to foster trust and a supportive culture.
❓What is your #1 priority this week, and why is it important?
Ask this question to better understand the alignment between individual members of the team and pivot focus if needed. This question promotes reflection, breaking the tendency to work on autopilot.
👍 Strategic check-ins
Strategic check-ins cover broad themes and concepts. These questions should come at a less frequent cadence because the answers aren't likely to change often.
❓How often do you feel like your work aligns with organizational goals?
Always | Most of the Time | Sometimes | Not Very Often
Goal alignment isn't just an essential element of employee engagement; it's also part of realizing a strategic vision. When there's alignment, it leads to better outcomes.
❓How clear do you feel your role is within the team?
Very Clear | Mostly Clear | Somewhat Clear | Unclear
Roles naturally shift over time, but ideally, employees feel sure about where their contributions fit in. If there's confusion, that's an important data point and opportunity.
❓What do you see as an untapped opportunity for our team?
The people closest to the work often have unique insights about it —check in with your colleagues to reveal their insights and key opportunities using an open-ended format.
💻 Meeting check-in questions
The time and bandwidth your colleagues share during meetings is a gift. Meeting check-in questions make it easy to honor that gift by delivering an engaging, illuminating, and valuable experience for everyone involved.
❓Pre-meeting check-in: Which topic from the meeting agenda do you want to focus on most?
- a) Topic 1
- b) Topic 2
- c) Topic 3
Gauge the audience's interest before a presentation or meeting to better align the content. When you focus on the things they care about to boost engagement it shows that you value their feedback.
❓Mid-meeting check-in: How much do you think our social media traffic grew over the past quarter?
- a) 30%
- b) 50%
- c) 200%
A quick, engaging check-in partway can break up the meeting. It helps those who are not currently presenting feel involved and re-engaged.
❓Post-meeting check-in: How useful did you find this meeting?
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
To improve on the status quo, it helps to measure performance. Ideally, any meeting or presentation provides the audience with value. To confirm, check in with a quick scale after the session.
❓Post-meeting check-in: What topics should we cover in more depth for the next meeting?
☑ Widget sales
☑ Widget R&D
☑ Widget integrations
Use data to learn how to make the next meeting more valuable. Here, we're addressing meeting topics. Some other areas for improvement might include meeting length, time, or even the meeting format since there's always opportunity for improvement.
🏡 Remote employee check-ins
Remote work changed the way many of us communicate with our colleagues. It provides fewer impromptu interactions where you might naturally build connections. A proactive check-in can help address issues early on that may not come up in regular meetings otherwise.
❓How satisfied are you with your remote work setup?
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
Many people still lack an appropriate productive space to get things done. While it may not be possible to fix every issue, most can be easily remedied.
❓How productive do you feel working from home?
More Than Usual | Less Than Usual
Some people feel significantly more productive working remotely, while others find it extremely difficult to stay focused. There are myriad reasons for this, from a person's living situation to their preferences.
Know how the team feels about working from home and it can help inform on supportive tools.
❓What could we provide to make it easier to do your job remotely?
Without a fully stocked supply closet or IT team on standby, some team members may be struggling with a lazy mouse or a makeshift monitor. You can find out what they're missing by asking. Some items are easy to provide and make a big difference to their day-to-day operations (and productivity).
❓How would you rate the connection you feel with your teammates?
Excellent | Good | Okay | Poor
Social connection can thrive among remote teams, but it requires creative effort.
Remote team-building activities and trivia can be a great place to start. Why not introduce icebreaker questions in weekly Zoom meetings? This is a lighthearted way to get the team bonding in the meetings they’re already a part of.
❓Which remote team activity would you be most interested in?
☑ Zoom happy hours
☑ Talent show
☑ Group yoga
Some remote team activities sound like a good idea in theory but are hard to do logistically. Before putting effort into organizing something, ask the group. It will be much more rewarding to put together activities that you know the team enjoys. You don't have to guess what activities will appeal to your team when you send a polly to the group.
Use Polly to plan for the next check-in
We've provided some check-in questions here, but they're just a starting point. With this new knowledge, you can easily frame a thoughtful set of questions that fit your team best.
Now that you're buzzing with ways to provide a deeply engaged team culture, see how we can support seamless check-ins with Polly. Whether you use Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, you can use Polly’s many features to check-in, engage, and support your team through every workday.
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Written by George Dickson
Lives to learn and build cool things with good people.