Short yet effective! How Check-ins can support your strategy execution

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The overarching company strategy is in place and all organization employees are ready to execute it. There are several ways to do so, including the goal-setting framework OKR. One element that takes up a small amount of time when working with OKRs, but is all the more important, is the implementation of regular Check-ins. In this article, we will tell you what they are, why you should not underestimate them and their impact on your strategy execution, and how you can best prepare and conduct them.

The Workpath OKR Cycle

OKRs and working with Check-ins

Working with OKRs is extremely multifaceted—from defining new Objectives and Key Results to coordinating collaboration. A very small part of the entire process surrounding Objectives and Key Results are the recurring Check-ins. These are short, 15 to 20 minute meetings held in regular intervals meant to track OKR progress and eliminate possible obstacles.

Meetings are often seen as productivity killers, as they always seem to be held when you are at your most focused. But Check-ins have a permanent place in the operational collaboration within the OKR Cycle and are a very helpful element.

First and foremost, Check-in meetings never last longer than 30 minutes—depending on the number of participants. A length of 15 to 30 minutes is ideal. In this case, it is important to hold them at regular intervals, either weekly or bi-weekly, to ensure you can react to obstacles quickly.

The meetings are attended by all relevant team members or the company level working on a particular OKR. An OKR Coach who helps to conduct the meeting usually also takes part. To ensure the Check-ins can be held on a weekly basis, a specific content structure is necessary.

This structure can be set up based on three questions for the participants:

  • What are you working on right now? / What have you achieved?
  • What would you like to work on next?
  • Are there any insights, risks or blockers you would like to share?

The big benefit of Check-in meetings

A big benefit or advantage, among other things, is the quick reaction time from teams. At each meeting, current topics can be discussed, problems and risks can be identified early on, and targeted adjustments can be made to the procedures or OKR drafting.

Thanks to its clear structure and limited timeframe, all participants can focus on the important topics for the day and can approach them in a simple and understandable way. In this way, all involved are held responsible for clearly communicating their progress and work process. This, in turn, increases the responsibility of others in the team for their own projects.

Another big advantage of Check-ins is that it does not matter which level the OKR framework is being used at. Whether in operational teams or at the highest management level—OKRs can be developed and Check-ins conducted at all levels.

All in all, Check-ins bring quite a few advantages with them. These include:

  • Ability to apply OKRs at all company levels
  • Quick reaction time within teams
  • Early identification of problems and obstacles
  • Increased focus on the most important topics
  • Increased responsibility of each team member

For those who have already worked with Scrum meetings or similar work structures, short meetings that address intermediate progress may seem familiar. They are often familiar to Check-ins used with OKR, making them easy to integrate into existing meeting processes or even replace them altogether.

Recognizing problems with Check-ins

Only when defined OKRs and individual initiatives are continuously put to the test can employee motivation remain at a high level and strategy execution always be designed efficiently.

Within the Check-in process, measures defined based on the OKRs can achieve their desired effect. If they do not, they can be adjusted or formulated again. If this is not done and they are first controlled at the end of the quarter, for example, it could be that they did not lead to the results originally intended when the work first began.

Not only are the goals not achieved, the motivation of the team members can also suffer when they realize their work has not contributed any added value to the company strategy.

Once you start to take a closer look at Check-ins, it becomes clear just how much value they can bring to your entire strategy execution.

Common mistakes made with OKRs and Check-ins

Of course, working with OKRs is not exclusively crowned with success. Assigning the wrong person to a task or the suboptimal distribution of work can lead to errors and should be avoided.

The most common mistakes include:

  1. The mindset that Check-ins within the OKR Cycle are unnecessary. This may be due to the misconception that defined initiatives will always be kept in mind and they are so well defined that there is no need for any further action. Check-ins are especially useful for teams with no previous experience in working with the OKR framework. They can help you thoroughly vet yourself and all of your decisions.
  2. Setting aside additional time slots for Check-ins although weekly meetings are held anyways. Check-ins for OKRs can easily be integrated into existing meeting structures. This way, additional work and focus time is not sacrificed. As already mentioned, OKRs are always looking for the smartest implementation possibilities. This includes integrating them into existing work processes.
  3. Maintaining the mindset that working with OKRs is additional work within project management. In this case, it is likely that too many initiatives have been created for the defined Key Results and are leading to an increased workload. These thoughts can be discussed in regular Check-ins so that the team and respective OKR Coach can quickly resolve the issue.
  4. Check-ins are used as reporting meetings instead of problem solvers. It is not uncommon that, throughout the cycle, meetings are simply used to report current data and discussions remain superficial. This kind of update wastes time and has little value and should take place before the Check-in begins. In doing so, every participant can update their current data and stay up to date on others’ information themselves. The Check-in itself should be used to identify and eliminate  problems or challenges as well as sharing learnings.

Three steps to the perfect Check-in

Now that we have provided all of the essential information regarding the advantages and importance of Check-ins for your strategy execution, the only question left is to dive into how you can prepare the regular Check-ins for your organization. The following three steps are necessary. 

Step 1: Define meeting parameters

In the first step, it is important to establish the basic elements of your meeting. Who will take part in the Check-in? Is exchange between various levels or teams necessary? Or is it a purely internal team meeting?

It is also important to determine what will be talked about during the meetings. Which OKRs will your Check-in focus on? And what topics—such as learnings, blockers, important decisions and operational matters—should be discussed within the meeting?

Finally, when should the Check-in take place? Will it be combined with another existing meeting to save time or aligned with an internal Sprint rhythm? At this point, there are various options. Most important is that meetings are not viewed as additional work or blockers.

Step 2: Prepare the meeting

Once you have defined the meeting parameters, you have already completed a lot of the important tasks. In the second step, the most essential piece of information is added. It is time to determine which OKRs should be discussed. This will help you focus on the most important details and avoid artificially prolonging the meeting.

Step 3: Conduct the meeting

Once you have prepared the meeting, it is time to hold it. Time management can be adjusted based on whether your company is big or small. For larger Check-ins with more participants, you can give each person a block of time to present their contributions. For smaller meetings, you can jump right into the defined goals. Either way, make sure to stay focused on the goals you set in advance. This way you will not exceed the time limit.

  • What happened operationally?
  • What changed?
  • Where has progress stalled?
  • Where are the risks and blockers? How can we eliminate them?
  • What learnings are there to share?

These are questions that will help you and your Check-in management stay on track. When talking to team members, pay close attention to where the team currently is. An outside perspective on the discussed topics can help determine where goals, challenges and problems exist.

Any updates to the OKRs should always be conducted together with the team. Document all information and decisions, and define new responsibilities based on the new insights from the Check-in.

Check-ins with Workpath’s OKR platform

To make it easier to work with OKRs and, in this specific case, with Check-ins, we have published a Check-in Guide on our Workpath platform. There you can find all the relevant information you need to prepare the perfect Check-in for your team.

Ready to read it now? Then click here.

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OKRs and their positive impact on strategy execution

As you can see, OKRs can have a tremendous impact on your organization and the execution of your company strategy. For them to succeed, however, it is not enough to simply introduce the framework and then leave your employees to fend for themselves. Working with OKRs is an iterative process—for you as a leader and for every team member within your organization. Seemingly small topics, such as a 15-minute Check-in, can have a huge impact on the success of your team’s goal achievement. That is why Check-ins need just as much attention as the definition of Objectives or the daily work on initiatives.

If you recognize the value of regular Check-ins, they can be a powerful lever for you and, to that effect, a valuable tool for successful strategy execution.

Check-ins: FAQ

What are Check-ins in terms of working with OKRs?

Check-ins are short, 15 to 30-minute meetings held within the team. At best, these meetings are conducted in regular, short intervals in order to react to any problems or changes within the process. All relevant team members as well as an OKR Coach, who will help with conducting the meeting, should take part.

What benefits can Check-ins have for my company?

Thanks to the short intervals between Check-ins, all team members have the opportunity to quickly react to any changes and, as a result, constantly keep productivity at a high level. In addition, since the meetings are so short, the team can focus on the most important things. All participants are taught to prioritize and recognize the most important aspects of their own work.

What are the most common mistakes when it comes to OKRs and Check-ins?

One common mistake is the mindset that Check-ins within the OKR Cycle are unnecessary. This may be due to the misconception that, within the short meeting time, nothing important can be decided or that all important OKRs will always be kept in mind and no further action is needed until the end of the given timeframe. But it is important to always keep an eye on these as new insights are gained throughout the process that may have an impact on the defined Objectives and Key Results. It is also common that new time slots are blocked off for the Check-ins although they are short enough to simply be integrated into existing meeting structures. Overloading initiatives is also a common mistake. This can result in OKRs increasing workload, which should be the opposite of what they actually accomplish. Finally, the mistake that Check-ins become reporting meetings in which currently daily activities are reported on, is not uncommon.

How do I prepare the perfect Check-in meeting?

There are three necessary steps when it comes to creating the optimal Check-in meeting. The first is to define the meeting parameters, including who should participate, what topics should be discussed and when the meeting should take place. The second step is to decide which OKRs should be discussed in order to focus on the most important topics. The third step is to conduct the meeting, in which all participants are listened to, insights are documented, and changes to the OKRs are made together.The overarching company strategy is in place and all organization employees are ready to execute it. There are several ways to do so, including the goal-setting framework OKR. One element that takes up a small amount of time when working with OKRs, but is all the more important, is the implementation of regular Check-ins. In this article, we will tell you what they are, why you should not underestimate them and their impact on your strategy execution, and how you can best prepare and conduct them.