What's Working? How Optimism Drives Performance

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Three Check-In Questions:

1. What’s working?
2. Where are you getting stuck?
3. What can we do differently?

It was my very first team meeting. I was the newest employee at the company and was still trying to wrap my head around our current project. Our manager asked the status of said project by asking three simple questions, which I would become quite familiar with. We call them “Check-In Questions.”

The Check-In Questions showed up again in a one-on-one conversation with my boss. Oh, these questions, again. Okay. I could see they were a helpful frame to structure our dialogue and produced valuable takeaways regarding what I needed to focus on next, but I have to admit that the first question really threw me for a loop.

I didn’t understand then why discussing what’s working was worthy of our attention. I had been conditioned to dive right into the things that needed fixing.

Over time, the incredible value of asking “what’s working?” slowly sunk in. That question opened our discussion on a positive note and quickly evinced the accomplishments and contributions of each team member.

Starting check-ins with optimism sets the tone of the conversation. It’s a warm up to celebrate the aspects of a project or goal that don’t need to be addressed. An opportunity to pat yourself on the back for every little bit of progress before honing in on where you’re stuck.

When check-ins are done properly, with the right framework and frequency, that optimism infiltrates every element of the organization.


When used in 1:1 personal coaching, “what's working?” can help coaches gain insight into the strengths of each of their direct reports. It can be used to build faith in that individual competence—in their ability to contribute. What’s working turns check-ins into an opportunity to reinforce the talents you see within your coachee.


In a team setting, like the group project check-in in started with, “what’s working” has an uncanny ability to reveal team dynamics. Is the team working together to solve problems? Are there enough resources to successfully complete the project? Is everyone collaborating to work through perceived problems? “What’s working” allows you to evaluate your team through a positive light and make plans to more of the right stuff, not just less of the wrong stuff.


Perhaps most importantly, “what’s working” can also reveal the core value that an organization brings to the market. Often we become prone to focusing on what’s broken, but recognizing our organizational strength is a powerful antidote. It builds faith in the company’s ability to create something together. It evokes the idea: “we solved this challenge; we can find a way to solve the next one, too.”

“What’s working” can also be a powerful tool to highlight trends. All too often, individuals and organizations fall into a trap of focusing on negative trends, but identifying positive trends can offer insights into overlooked strengths and assets that could be maximized for powerful results.

So, what’s working?

The "What's Working?" question is all about bringing optimism into the workplace.


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