Most problems at work stem from communication breakdowns. It might be a project getting delayed silently, a risk not communicated early enough, or simply needing the help of another teammate to finish a job. We can all excel at individual tasks, but without good communication, the sum of the parts will never be greater than the whole – it'll just look like a mess.
This is a growing challenge today, as many teams have gone remote. We gained a lot in personal focus and individual productivity, but we've also lost our ability to spontaneously converge toward a set of problems.
Consequently, many companies turn to the OKR framework as a solution. It offers the promise of alignment by establishing a standard for setting goals across the company. But, OKRs will only work if you also develop excellent goal-tracking habits through weekly check-ins.
A weekly check-in can be a powerful tool to keep everyone aligned, especially in a remote setting. In this post, you'll find 5 questions teams should answer every week, including actionable tips on how to write your answers.
A weekly check-in is a simple routine that allows people to stay up-to-date with the progress of their peers. It's often seen as a process that mainly benefits managers, but there's also great value in seeing the updates of your teammates. Teams and individuals can end up isolated if there's no forcing function for cross-team communication.
Weekly progress updates are one part celebration, one part information, and one part coordination. A designer can use it to showcase their work in progress and start getting the team excited about what's coming up. A marketer can share early go-to-market stats and bring up confidence in achieving the goals. A dev can post a demo link and highlight upcoming challenges that the team will need to rally around.
Of course, leaders will find great value in being able to read progress summaries. But individual contributors should see their weekly updates as an opportunity to recreate the spontaneous exchanges that used to happen in-office.
Your efforts should map to a specific set of goals. This should be reflected in your weekly check-ins by relating them to existing goals or OKRs.
A weekly check-in shouldn't feel like a reporting chore, nor should it look read like a novel. Write short paragraphs or use bullet points that can easily be scanned by the team.
A weekly check-in is a communication tool. People outside of your direct team should be able to quickly understand what the update is about. Of course, you can be specific and go into details that are only relevant to your department. But avoid using obscure acronyms or unofficial project names.
A good goal-tracking tool will let you easily connect your weekly check-in to existing goals or OKRs. It'll help teams save time by answering many questions visually (charts to see progress trends, or coloured square for confidence), and providing a simple way to maintain consistency at scale.
You'll know at a glance if you're on-track and how confident the team is in achieving the desired results.
The first question is about getting an understanding of past accomplishments. You should refer back to your success metrics, but don't settle for a simple number like "this week we had 34 leads". The reader needs to understand how things changed compared to the previous weeks, and it's also best to remind them of the current target.
A better response to this question would be: "We increased weekly leads by 12% and are now at 34 leads/week. We still need to add 11 signups to reach our goal of 45 leads/week".
The second question is about providing context. Let's continue with our leads example. We improved the number of weekly leads by 12%, but do we know how? Is this a fluke, or can we expect the number to stay the same or keep increasing?
This question is where we correlate efforts with impact. Sometimes, the progress observed will result from work accomplished many weeks before. An example of that is SEO, where it can take 4 to 12 weeks before you can see meaningful changes in numbers. Other times you'll be able to directly correlate things that happened last week to how certain numbers changed.
Now our check-in update looks something like this:
The 3rd check-in question is about the future. So far, we've outlined everything that happened and included a brief explanation of how it happened. Now we need to look forward and assess our confidence in achieving our main goal.
There are only 3 possible answers to that question:
One word of caution here. Orgs must have a culture where reporting risks is encouraged. If people fear repercussions for saying they're getting in the red, then they'll just obfuscate the truth until it's too late.
The best teams are comfortable reporting discomfort because this is how they can rally early to achieve outstanding results.
Another rule of thumb: you should not be able to say that you're at risk 3 times in a row. You need to pick a side on your 3rd iteration – you're either off track or on track. You can't be forever at risk, as it prevents people from having the proper sense of urgency.
You should be able to answer this question in a spreadsheet or your goal-tracking tool by using a simple coloured square. Here's what things would look like in a doc👇
Confidence is subjective, but it's a critical piece of information that can be turned into a confidence score.
The blockers question is where we raise urgent issues and ask for help from teammates. It's an opportunity to remind others of expected items or surface new challenges discovered during the week.
For instance, you could be waiting on a series of posts to keep improving SEO, or you noticed that many popular posts are missing an explicit CTA. Now our weekly check-in looks like the following:
The last question you should answer in your weekly check-in is about the roadmap. Of course, you need some stability, and this is not about doing 180 turns every week. But there might be some learnings that you can incorporate to adjust your efforts through small iterations.
When things are on track, there's generally not much to add here – you just keep going as you were. But this question becomes a lot more valuable when a goal is getting at risk or off track. That is when you want to reconsider your plan and figure out the small adjustments that can get you back on track as quickly as possible.
Here's our weekly check-in in its final form:
Weekly check-ins can be made a lot shorter by using Tability to show progress trends and confidence information on a chart.
Then you can simply focus your update on explaining how you got to where you are today, and discuss potential blockers and changes required in the roadmap.
Additionally Tability will be able to:
If you're using OKRs, you might be interested in our complete guide on weekly OKR check-ins. We also have a list of short-term vs. long-term business goals to inspire you for your planning sessions.