You might already do something similar at work: once a week, even if you’re in near constant communication with your colleagues, the whole team sits down (probably via video chat these days) for a brief overview on how things are going. These meetings follow a certain script with updates from various departments, or it may be a more casual gathering to discuss on-going projects. Meetings like this can be important even if you’re in communication all day long in other ways because it’s a moment to take a breath, look at each other face-to-virtual-face, and talk about how things are going. Families can do this, too.
The idea originates from Jeff Sutherland, who designed a new workflow system for a financial firm in the 1980s. Sutherland had noticed that overly ambitious orders from top-down led to projects that were late, over budget, or failed entirely. Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, writes for the Harvard Business Review:
Sutherland designed a new system, in which ideas flowed not just down from the top but up from the bottom and groups were designed to react to changes in real time. The centerpiece is the weekly meeting that’s built around shared decision making, open communication, and constant adaptability.
Such meetings are easy to replicate in families. In my home, we started when our twin daughters were five and chose Sunday afternoons. Everyone gathers around the breakfast table; we open with a short, ritualistic drum tapping on the table; then, following the agile model, we ask three questions.
1. What worked well in our family this week?
2. What didn’t work well in our family this week?
3. What will we agree to work on this week?
Your weekly check-in meetings don’t have to follow that exact format or script—maybe you’d prefer to meet over Friday night pizza delivery when all the successes and failures of the week are still extra fresh in your mind and you have the weekend ahead to recover and regroup. Or maybe you want to tweak the questions or add an extra question based on your family’s goals. However it looks logistically is less important than the intentional act of checking in.
If you’d like to implement a weekly family check-in meeting, now is the perfect time as the start of the school year approaches and pandemic stress climbs toward a new peak. It’s going to be challenging to meet the mental and emotional needs of everyone in the family as we all struggle to begin a new schedule and as learning plans continue to be in flux in many schools. A weekly meeting can be a chance to slow down, look each other in the eye and ask, “How are we all doing?”
These moments can help each member of the family feel a little more seen, a little more heard and, therefore, a little happier.