Why Check-In, Always

A friend recently shared with me a very close-up picture of a flower in her garden. I loved it for the way it revealed a world hidden, a world of change, that you’d miss without taking the time to deliberately dwell. I decided to try the same with a few flowers. The above red rose, planted a few years back, grows near my front door. I planted it to honor my Granny Gould, who, I suppose, encouraged me to look to the inner, and to delight in the beauty of flowers.

Recently I participated with a group that was exploring a few aspects of “check-in” within the practice of circle as method and as way of being. It was fun. People were sharing a few experiences that ranged from the technical process to the more nuanced invitations. Dwelling behind that was a common core question, not really spoken out loud, but nonetheless palpable — why check-in?

There is a particular clarity that has come for me over the years. It’s simple. Yet, rather impactful for its invitation. I’ll offer two bits of that.

One, check-in because who we are continues to change. Sure, there’s a part of us that remains in a red thread of our lives. But fundamentally, we are changing creatures. We notice things. We are moved by conversations. We are impacted by stories we hear. Our brains and hearts can’t help but connect ideas, feelings, emotions, wondering. OK, I know that some of us have protective barriers that strip us of our noticing capabilities. But even noticing that is part of the constant change that we are. Check-in because it’s inherently part of every team (or family, or community, or task force, or organization), and I would suggest every individual, to be a good noticer. Notice what? What is changing.

Two, because there is alway a mystery to lean to. Yes, sometimes it’s a mystery that we fight with. Or a mystery that we prefer to deny. But this is a fundamental outlook on life. Mystery. Circle, and check-in, gives us a format to encounter just a bit more of that mystery, and, perhaps more crucially, the energy of mystery. I would suggest that for any of us these days, growing our ability to be in the letting go of control and fear-laden predictions, is massively important skill.

Check-in (and circle as a whole) gives us process to dwell. It gives us a way to look close up and close in. It gives us a way to notice where there is dew, where the light shines, where there is unfolding, where there is rich and vibrant hue. Inner and outer. Yah, check-in for all of that.

Heritage, An Important Nuance

Today is Canada Day. July 1st. Often thought of as Canada’s Birthday. It commemorates the forming of country, a British domain in 1867.

There is much that I celebrate about being Canadian and about the day. For me, as a boy and young adult, it was time with family. It was BBQ. It was fireworks. In particular for the last 15 years, as a Canadian living in the USA, It’s been celebration of return, taking my kids for a week of holiday to British Columbia to be with cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles. It was the sweet intimacy of family. And for me, of return to the country in which I was born.

Not this year — the physical travel that is. That’s a CoVid restriction.

Yeah for heritage. And. I feel as part of the social movement of our time, there’s a few other things to begin to clarify as context of heritage.

The country may be marked as 153 years old. But it’s peoples were there long before, reaching back 12,000 years. Yah, context.

Part of my evolution of learning about heritage includes coming to understand more of a core wound and trauma that exists in peoples of North America. For Canada, it is in particular the impact of colonization at it’s strongest — presuming the land empty of inhabitants, or worse, just taking it anyway with might and manipulation.

There is further grieving and further healing needed. There are big steps, that are incredibly complex. Further reparation that bring the reality of settlers and first nations peoples into more right relations together. There is witness needed. There is apology needed. There is grace needed. There is love and celebration needed too.

I didn’t know this stuff as a boy. I was content with Canada flags, red maple leafs everywhere, potato salad, hot dogs, games, and a game of pickup football. I was content with the joy of it all. The celebration. I still am joyful, but awareness has more to it now, I would suggest as it should.

Some of the “more to it” I’m coming to practice and appreciate with my Canadian friends is a small but important step — the naming of traditional lands and peoples of geography that I inhabit or inhabited, or, that my ancestors inhabited. It’s a small step. Yet important. I would suggest for the way that it dares to speak out loud what has been secreted, hidden, denied, and shamed.

For me, I was born in Treaty 6 Lands, most often now referenced as Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta. It was land of traditional peoples that included the Cree, Plain’s Cree, and Tsuut’ina.

I’m glad to celebrate heritage. With full joy. But part of maturing as a person, and as a people, I would suggest, is willful integration of many nuances, including those that have caused historical pain that has been brought forward to today.

Not Every Meeting is Everything For Everyone

Yup, that sounds rather obvious doesn’t it. Yet it’s often overlooked in design of meetings, particularly when group sizes get larger. With good intent to try to cover everything, the end result is often too watered down, or too rushed, or too scattered in purpose to yield what was the longed-for intention.

Recently in a coaching call I was listening to someone share an example of, what I believe was the trap of trying to be everything for everyone. What needed a series of meetings placed carefully over time with clear purpose and space for integration, was being smooshed into one meeting and several complex topics. What needed ample initial connection and reconnection among participants (in part because of continued online meetings) was being compressed to a list of albeit delicious intended outcomes, but still missing the essential relational qualities. This meeting needed depth and authenticity. It was defaulting in design to another skim of the shallow.

I would suggest we’ve all been there. I have. Argh. Trying for too much.

Well the coaching I offered this person was an intent to get to the essence of things. It wasn’t mine to fix the short-changing of time needed for this persons particular purpose. But it also wasn’t my job to dismiss the oversights and flippantly wish them good luck. My job, my desire, was to offered something principled that might help them nuance their thinking and their practice of meeting, starting with what was in front of them.

I offered three basic points that ground my learning and hosting of meetings and hosting of people who host.

  1. Remember (as above) that not every meeting is for everything and for everyone. The intent to be comprehensive is impressive. The intent to be efficient is impressive. But I would suggest the courage to even sip the depths together is often more lasting that another instance of surfacy production-line together. There is a maxim used by many that I learned in my early Berkana days — sometimes we need to slow down so that we can speed up. I offered this awareness with my client so as to reclaim permission and courage to design for meetings that would help people want to come back.
  2. Make sure that there is turning to one another. Yup, another obvious one. Turn to one another with story. Turn to one another with invitation to share experiences of what they see and notice. Turn to one another with invitation to name what they each feel is important and has relevance for their situation. Whether it is another online meeting or another face to face meeting, I think that people leading these often cave to the pressure to get on with the meeting. Turning to one another is what animates people, in part because of the need for connection, so that they can take on the complex stuff together. It’s so simple, online or face to face, to create a well-bounded experience to turn to one another, a partner or a group of three, rather than another instance of passive participation.
  3. Ask for improvements. Ask for people to offer what they think might help the situation. It’s less about complete fixes. It’s more about animating some fundamental energy for being in continued learning and practice with one another. What I shared with my client was the importance of being transparent with three scales that are happening all at the same time. Sometimes the scale for improvement is what the individual does. And not every individual the same. Just for one person. Sometimes the scale of improvement is for the team, or committee, or task force. What is one thing that you feel might help our team in moving forward? Sometimes the scale is for the larger organization or community. Because that scale is intertwined with the deeply personal.

That’s it. “Three things to weave to your thinking,” I offered. Three things that might restore a bit clarity in process and purpose. The real work of our times isn’t about imposing more manipulation to get people to do something. The real work is about getting ourselves in the room, inviting authenticity and imagination with others, and as lofty as all of that feels, invoking just a bit of Jedi practice and design to reclaim some of the caring that brought people to the work in the first place.

Here’s to good meetings. To good nudges of very purposed design. And to the taking on of complex things with new found simplicity.


OK, so truth be told, I just like this set of three pictures, taken with iPhone camera as I enjoyed a bit of easy-paced Sunday morning time in my yard yesterday. In a “beyond words” way, they invite me to marvel a bit.

These are daisies growing near my front door, 2-3 feet tall. I love their wildness and abundance. They reseed prolifically each year. They bloom June through September where I live. I also love these perspectives of scale. The close-up interior of a single flower. The more distant perspective of a few flowers growing together. The yet more distant view of a larger section of garden.

These simultaneous views continue to teach me about myself and teach me in what I invite with groups. The inner world of individuals is rather rich, complex, and beautiful. So is the formation that is team. So is the shape that is organization.

I find myself pointing a lot these days — growing gardens if you will — to how the inner is connected to the outer, and how the the longer arc of things is connected to the now. How the big scale of how an organization works is connected to how its people work. And vice versa.

These are all scales that yield much important learning and consciousness. I’m grateful for the way daisies remind me of scale. And how they just bring aliveness in perspective.