You simply cannot start your meetings anymore with a 10-minute check-in. That is not because we are in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and we should just assume people are not well. It is because the 10-minute check-in is typically not intended to support the reality of what Black people are experiencing. The check-in has entered into our formal work environments as organizations have learned to honor the human beings they call employees and recognize they perform much better when their personal lives are acknowledged. How often does this check-in give full honor to an individual’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? Well not often, because how can that really be done in 10 minutes. Usually, one may complain or be excited about the weather. During this time of year, many of us are complaining about seasonal allergies. Someone is usually fatigued due to a lack of sleep. Many may express being “fine” or “okay” and not have much to commiserate around. I am fully admitting and owning to doing this myself, however, in the past year, there have been many times in which I was grappling with the anger and sorrow of the news of another Black person murdered and ensured to fully express these emotions when asked “how are you doing?” in a team meeting. I am clear, I am not Black. That does not mean that I am not allowed to have my own emotional response and needs for support, but what it does mean is I cannot pretend to comprehend or even understand what it means to be Black and watch and listen to the news of another unjustly heinous death of a Black soul.
Because of this, I am not providing you with a solution to what you should do or say in your work meetings. Everyone is different. I am requesting you be intentional with your team check-ins and make the following considerations:
Are you able to allow for the time needed for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) to fully express themselves?
If you are not, you should consider not even opening up the conversation with a check-in. Race is a highly emotional and personal conversation, and to shut it off without allowing people to express themselves can cause more harm. Right now, and always, race is impacting BIPOC on your teams and you should assume race has something to do with how they are doing.
Are you acknowledging racism and privilege when doing check-ins?
This act of naming racism and privilege can be an invitation for BIPOC to accept or reject participating in the conversation. Remembering it should always be their decision to choose to engage or not. They should not be isolated or pressured to speak at all and facilitators should explicitly name that as a norm.
Are you able to provide support to your Black colleagues during and after the meeting?
This support should be defined and requested by your Black colleagues. That is not to say you should not be offering support by asking the questions, “what can I do?” or “what do you need?”
Are you providing other opportunities for BIPOC to engage in meaningful conversations about their experiences?
Racial affinity spaces are a wonderful example of this, as well as conversations led by trained facilitators that can provide healing and experience. It is not appropriate or honoring to assume the role of this to a BIPOC team member without providing the compensation, training, and support.
Are you actually intending to do something about what is shared?
When someone shares being down or facing an upcoming challenge, most respond with a positive sentiment, potential solution, or a “good luck”. These responses, along with “thank you for sharing”, “thank you for being vulnerable”, including the awkward silences and moving on to the next speaker, are not enough when it comes to BIPOC speaking their truth. These responses can be dismissive and insulting. You don’t have to know exactly what to say or have a solution, but if a concern is expressed that an action can be taken to address that concern, will you take responsibility for taking those steps? If yes, communicate that and let it be known. Acknowledge you heard the concern, clarify for understanding, and communicate your actions and how you will get back to the person with the concern. This is being responsive and being a leader. This is not only for those with formal authority. Do not leave it up to those with formal authority. You are equally responsible as a witness and colleague.
Not everyone may agree with what I am offering. I want to be explicit in naming that and therefore, this may be a good post to discuss with your team and get their beliefs on the matter. Together, you can determine how to have meaningful team check-ins that work for everyone.