Keeping Meetings Focused: The Checkpoint
Adapted from The Secrets of Facilitation
There are many strategies for keeping meetings focused. One of the most important ones is what we call the checkpoint. At the beginning of every agenda item and facilitated process, it is important to take a checkpoint by doing the following:
- Review – Review quickly what has been done to date.
- Preview – Describe briefly what the group is about to do.
- Big View – Explain how the previewed agenda item fits into the overall objective of the session.
I will use the agenda below as a sample to demonstrate the use of checkpoints.
Purpose: Define the changes necessary to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the hiring process.
A. Getting Started
B. How does the hiring process work today?
C. What are the problems and root causes?
D. What are the potential improvements?
E. Prioritize the improvements
F. Develop an implementation plan
G. Review and close
Suppose we were about to start the second agenda item, “How does the hiring process work today?” We might have a checkpoint such as the following.
Facilitator: We have just completed the getting started segment (review). Our next step is to identify how the hiring process works today (preview). This is important because if we can identify all the steps in the process, we can then examine where in the process the problems are occurring and then identify ways to make it a much better process (big view). The way we are going to do this is…
Why is a checkpoint necessary? The checkpoint serves to ensure that all participants are aware that a transition is taking place. It also helps participants understand how the process they are about to begin relates to the overall session purpose.
Facilitators tend to be fairly good at the review and preview parts of a checkpoint. Unfortunately, we tend to leave out the key component, the big view. The big view explains why the step is important and why the participants should invest their time in the step. The big view should always tie back to the overall session objective by explaining how this step contributes to the session purpose. You might note that the big view is equivalent to the excite step in the IEEI technique for opening a session. So, in essence, with each agenda item, SMART facilitators re-excite people about the benefit of the session!
You may have noted that a checkpoint should be used at the beginning of every agenda item or facilitated process. What do I mean? An agenda item might have one or more facilitated processes depending upon its complexity. For example, an agenda item to determine “How does the hiring process work today?” in some cases would be just one facilitated process, but it could include three facilitated processes if the hiring activity in an organization is very complex:
- The first facilitated process might be a fact gathering process that identifies most of the steps in the hiring process.
- The second process might be a categorization process to group the steps into major activities.
- The third process might be a review process to ensure that we have identified all the steps in each of the activities.
It is important to take a checkpoint when you transition from each of these facilitated processes, as well as when you start the next agenda item.
Note that if you skip the big view, there could be repercussions. Let’s look at an example. Let’s go back to the hiring process. Assume you were about to start the second agenda item, “How does the hiring process work today?” but all you gave were the review and preview.
Sample: Dangers in Omitting the Big View
Facilitator: We have just completed the getting started segment. Our next step is to identify how the hiring process works today. The way we are going to do this is… (At this point, your nightmare begins.)
Participant: Excuse me, facilitator. I agreed to be a part of this task force because the purpose is to come up with a new process. Let’s be clear, we are not going to do the old process anymore. We are going to do the new process. So spending any time at all talking about how the old process works is a waste of our time, your time, and my time. Let’s not waste time. If we are here to create a new process, let’s get to it.
(Rapid back-pedaling ensues.)
Facilitator: I appreciate your concern about not wasting time. And if we don’t need to talk about the current process, it will certainly save time to skip it. One reason perhaps to talk at least a little about the current is that by identifying the current steps, it will make it easier for us to identify where the problems are. This typically helps us make sure our new process fixes those problems. But maybe others agree that we don’t need to talk about the current. What do you think? And then let's check in with the rest of the group…
Participant: Let’s not waste time checking in with the rest of the group. I understand now what you are trying to do. Let’s just get to it.
In this sample, the facilitator didn’t give the big view: the facilitator was about to start an agenda item without explaining why the agenda item was important. This participant happens to put a high value on time. The participant immediately objected to the idea of wasting time on an activity that wasn’t contributing to the objective. Notice what happened next: the facilitator gave the big view in an effort to resolve the situation! Once the facilitator gave the big view, the participant was basically satisfied. However, now there is a bit of tension in the air that the facilitator will have to work to overcome. Had the facilitator given the big view in the beginning, this situation would likely have been avoided.
An additional benefit of the checkpoint is that it provides a smooth transition from agenda to agenda item. The big view is a key component for helping people understand how each part of the agenda fits into the overall session objective. Keep in mind, if you find people asking you, “So why are we doing this?” it may mean you omitted the big view!
Interested in learning more facilitation techniques? Check out our course, The Effective Facilitator.