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The Power of the Check-in

My first introduction to mindfulness (moment-to-moment awareness) at the workplace was at Hyper Island's New York office, where I facilitated master classes and client projects for four years. During my first week my coworker kicked off our team meeting with a "check-in." She asked us to share how we were feeling with one word, and one task that was nagging at our brains in that moment.

I've never been a fan of sharing my feelings with people, let alone people I just met who I will work with. So yes, I was a little skeptical. To see what this process was all about I waited to speak last.

I shared that I felt "nervous" (#truth, it was only my second day at my new job), and what nagged my brain was my client call later that day. To my surprise, I felt much better. My nerves were calmed from saying I was nervous out loud, and I stopped thinking about the call during the one-hour meeting.

Soon I learned that Hyper Island never starts a meeting or a workshop without a check-in. It is a simple tool that can help teams and groups be fully engaged, a tool that I grew to love. Here's why:

  • Those sometimes silly sometimes serious questions allowed space for me to be mindful - to be more present.

  • When I was more present I listened more actively to others, and shared my thoughts more clearly.

  • Most importantly, I didn't judge what I heard from others, and I didn't judge my own thoughts and ideas.

The purpose of the check-in is to create an environment where your team respects each other, builds on each other's ideas, and solves problems together. The check-ins are a vehicle to "group mindfulness," an experience I'm very familiar with in my personal life.

A few years before I joined Hyper Island I stumbled into an improv comedy class during a "try new things that scare me" phase, and I fell head over heels in love with the artform. Improvisers are trained to give ourselves over to the moment, to listen and support others (think "Yes, and"), to accept what's happening as reality and work with it.

And like any other skills we have to practice these regularly to keep them strong. Before doing a show my improv teammates and I need to also check-in with each other (we call these warm ups). We have to literally warm up our bodies to move and open our minds to connect with each other, because improvisation is about being mindful.

We create stories and characters in the moment, so we better be aware of the moment, be listening, and not judging what's happening. If one of us is thinking about what to eat for dinner during a show she's not supporting our team or our common goal - to create an entertaining story for our audience.

Here are my favorite ways to check-in or warm up at your next team meeting/brainstorm/event:

1. THE CHECK-IN QUESTION (Verbal)

Pose a question to the whole group that is not related to what you are about to do, meet about, chat about. I love more fun questions to lighten to the mood such as:

  • What superpower do you wish you had and why?

  • What's your spirit animal and why?

  • Where will you go on your next trip?

  • What color are you feeling like today?

2. PASS A CLAP (Physical)

Everyone stands in a circle. The first person turns to their right and makes eye contact with his neighbor. They both need to clap at the same time while keeping eye contact, then the second person turns to his right and repeats the action, clapping together with his neighbor. The clap is passed around the circle faster and faster. The goal is to connect with your group and be present. (This a crowd favorite because it's deceptively easy and surprisingly fun.)

3. ONE WORD STORY (Verbal + Physical)

Everyone stands in a circle. The group will tell a story together but each person can only say one word or one punctuation at a time. Start them off with a prompt (a word or topic) and begin one person at a time. The goal is for the story to make sense and the key is listening to each person. Go around until you feel the story is complete.

Improv and being a part of Hyper Island changed the way I saw the world, and how I participated (played) in it. Over the years I transformed into a more mindful person, and a more empathetic, adaptable, and collaborative leader. Now, I share what I've learned to empower people and teams to become strong creative leaders.

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Lisa Pertoso designs and facilitates learning experiences for people and teams infused with tools and techniques from improvisational comedy. If you want to learn more about Lisa and her work check out her website.

To explore more tools and exercises check out Hyper Island's Toolbox!

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