Check-in Rounds: A Cultural Ritual at Medium
“Rituals are repeated behaviors that establish a sense of community. They tell the story of your culture and reinforce its values.” — Culture LabX
Like many companies, Medium often uses shared activities like all-hands meetings, game nights, and company meals to build and augment our sense of community. Yet one of the rituals that has had the most impact on our culture is a small action that is part of many of our meetings: a check-in round.
In a check-in round, each person shares a small status update at the beginning of a meeting. Unlike most meeting topics, however, this status update pertains to the individuals themselves: They may share their current emotional state, what is going on in their work or personal lives, how they really, really need that cup of coffee they’re holding, or how they ran into an old friend on the way to work today, so they’re feeling extra jazzed about life. This time is the individual’s space — it’s not a discussion, and the individual chooses what and how much to share.
It’s always tempting to just say “I’m good,” but by sharing personal updates, each individual is practicing a moment of vulnerability. As Brené Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experience.” It’s not easy to open up about how you’re feeling, and this vulnerability lays a foundation for increased human connection.
The check-in round brings this vulnerability into our daily routine. By listening to these updates, each member of the group has an increased awareness of others’ mental states, leading to more empathy both during the meeting and outside of it. These moments of connection foster a culture of awareness and empathy that pervades Medium.
The check-in round also helps make our meetings (and our culture) more inclusive. Having each individual speak at the beginning of the meeting lowers the barrier for that person to speak again. This helps level the (meeting) playing field for different individuals to speak regardless of their background or personality. We’ve seen this effect most visibly with new hires: After speaking in their very first meeting, they feel more comfortable speaking up in general.
Tactically, the check-in round also get the meetings started quickly (why spend five minutes chit-chatting when you’re about to check in?) and ensures that the rest of the meeting is focused on the topic at hand.
This ritual, in connection with other round-robin meeting structures, has heightened the sense of individual empowerment at Medium. In almost any setting, each person feels they have the ability to speak up, share their perspective, and take action.
A check-in round seems like a small thing, but imagine if we stopped saying hello to each other when entering a room: That change would drastically impact how we feel and interact the rest of the day. At Medium, the check-in round fosters our sense of community while building a culture of empathy, awareness, and empowerment.