A Sober Check-In

September 24, 2012

Today I needed to come up with a check-in for a workshop with people from different parts of the client organization. Most of the participants didn’t know each other beforehand but we were going to spend the afternoon together so some kind of introduction was necessary. A major goal of the workshop was to get people to share certain aspects of their work experiences, thus a trusting environment was an important factor. At the same time we had quite a tight schedule so I couldn’t take more than a couple of minutes for the check-in part.


  • People did not know each other
  • Short on time


  • Get participants introduced to each other
  • Get participants to talk in front of each other
  • Get participants to gain some trust for each other

These preconditions and goals are common for a check-in but in most of my scenarios people either know each other better to begin with, or I have more time to spend on the check-in. What to do?

Now, I do have a relationship with Macallan and Ron Zacapa but it’s quite casual so I haven’t felt the need to attend an AA meeting yet. However, I started watching the movie You Kill Me the other day. In this film Ben Kingsley plays a recovering alcoholic so I got some insight into the format of these meetings without having to go there myself. I figured that opening up about something as personal as alcoholism in a room full of strangers requires a lot of trust and perhaps I could learn something from their format. So what would a corporate AA meeting/workshop look like?

Me: “Hi! My name is Morgan and I’ve been addicted to agile ways of working for ten years now.
Everyone: “Hi Morgan!
Me: “It all started when a friend gave me a white paper on XP and before I knew it I was using Scrum and TDD on a daily basis.

What do we have here?
First; a presentation. I tell everyone my name and something about my qualification to be in this room. Now I’m not a complete stranger anymore.
Second; one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to remember people’s names is to repeat the name immediately after you’ve been introduced. So we also have increased everyone’s chance of remembering the names of the other participants by having them say “Hi Morgan!”.
Third; for me the feeling is that everyone welcomes me by saying “Hi Morgan!”. They have recognized me and my presence and they know my name.
Finally; I get to share something about where I come from so we can find some common ground during the day.

This AA-style presentation took about 30 seconds per person and was not more advanced than a simple round the table presentation where everyone states their name and their role but my experience was that the details made quite a lot of difference. The participants felt a little bit silly about the format so some chuckles eased the mood without taking away the fact that people felt recognized and welcome. Everyone shared something and everyone spoke in front of each other. I will definitely use this format again.

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