This is the first of four posts covering facilitation games for the different phases of meetings: Check In, Opening, Exploring, Closing.

The Check In is the initial phase of a meeting, and to a large extent is independent of the content. The purpose of this section is to bring everyone’s focus into the room and establish the collaboration boundaries, so that right from the start we are all clear on what we expect of each other, and what we expect from the session.

For regular sessions like retrospectives with teams who know each other well, I jump straight to the Metaphor section below; for teams that are new to working together, or long facilitation sessions, I try to include all three steps as time allows.

Check In:

These activities signal the general level of attention, acknowledging outside distractions and bringing attention to the current objective.

  1. Fist of Five – Adapted to show how happy / informed / focused I’m feeling right now
  2. ESVP – How committed I am to being here (from Agile Retrospectives)
  3. Form a line – participants stand in a line from left (low) to right (high) in response to a question such as ‘How I rank my level of knowledge’
  4. WIIFM – have participants write their “What’s In It For Me” (What I want to get out of this session) on a stickynote and stick it up on a designated wall space. If time allows, have them discuss this in small groups first. Revisit at the end of the session as part of closing. Defines personal objectives, generates ideas for others, and also gives the facilitator some perspective on the group’s expectations.

Create Safety:

These activities are designed to maximize collaboration. Developing personal connections between participants and setting the boundaries of the meeting help to establish initial trust.

  • Introduction Card – Pair activity: create a card for your pair stating their Name; Role; Interesting Fact; and Superhero Quality, then introduce them to the group. Fun introduction technique, creates bonds & generates laughter (from our Coaching Dojo)
  • Working Agreements – Agreement on how we’ll handle distractions, conflict, tangents etc. either long term as a team or for the current meeting (from Agile Retrospectives)
  • How can we make this (retrospective / session) fail? Round robin format – this is a fun way to surface fears and create awareness of unsupportive activities and attitudes, and agreement on how to avoid them or handle them if they come up.
  • Focus On / Focus Off – Another way to bring awareness to collaborative vs obstructive behaviours (from Agile Retrospectives)
  • Hope for the meeting / sprint etc. – Creates a shared understanding of individual objectives (from Agile Retrospectives)

Check In Metaphor:

Once the conditions of safety have been established, a quick ‘Turn the Head’ activity suffices as a Check In, providing a meaningful transition to the Opening section of the meeting.

It’s ‘disruptive’ as it challenges our thinking by bypassing the jargon we use on a daily basis, to create new associations and insights. Metaphor check-ins can also give a heads-up on underlying themes or tensions, but are quick enough to simply highlight issues without pre-empting a tangential conversation.
These ideas appear in both Gamestorming and Agile Retrospectives.

  • Describe (the sprint / release / team etc.) as a:
    • Fruit, food, drink – rich associations with wide applicability; can surface emotions
    • Car, mode of transport – drive & motivation in the team
    • Colour, sound, other senses – wide applicability; can tend towards the abstract; useful for volatile situations
  • Drawing:

While there is always someone in the room who “can’t draw to save their lives,” I’ve never seen this exercise produce trivial insight. Both metaphor and drawing can create new neural networks that help to situate each participant’s experience; drawing goes further by using a different form of language and connecting different spheres of brain activity. The debrief experience tends to be rich, and contributes to building trust within the group.

… and then sometimes I just ask for any 2 or 3 words, or a highlight and lowlight, that start the discussion. This is particularly useful when I don’t know the group, when emotions are running high, or there have been a variety new experiences.

Most of these activities come from books, blogs or training sessions I’ve been part of; some I’ve created to meet specific needs. Where I can find attributions they are noted; if you see any I’ve missed, or know of links I haven’t found, please let me know in the comments below.