Illustration of cups and plates neatly stacked to the side, with some room left at the top.
Making room to help others

Capacity checks — reflection

Part 2/2

We did it!

Did it work?

  • From those folks who made it to the daily meetings, some did use the background images. I would say that was a success already!
  • As the week went on, some people continued to use the background images, others stopped and others joined in. So there was a nice flux and dynamism of use versus non-use.

Was it useful?

  • Get the ‘pulse’ of the team and sense the energy of the group better
  • Correct any assumptions about whether certain people were busy or not (and there were some surprises)
  • Notice how some folks who already had full plates were still volunteering to help others, taking on even more; this allowed for a gentle reminder or a nudge to check their workload or see if they needed help unloading anything first
  • Centre the conversation around ‘helping’ each other and prompting circling back to each person to see if they needed any help, especially when their plates were quite full
  • Invite the team to deconstruct their workload and to-do lists with an eye for things that someone else could help with
  • See subtle changes in how folks assessed their capacity from one day to another
  • Normalize for the team that their perception of ‘work capacity’ can be impacted by circumstances outside of work— as this is how they feel that day and their whole-selves matter
  • Be vulnerable and open with the team about needing help (model the behaviour I hoped to encourage)
  • Reflect on and be intentional about how I choose to show up for the team (more on that below)

Length of time

  • Short and sweet: 15 minutes was a good amount of time (not too much, not too little)
  • Too short to be accurate: the flip side of ‘short and sweet’ was that it may not have given folks enough time to share ‘what was truly on their plate’


  • Daily: Most people felt that daily frequency was a good opportunity to connect the team, especially when/if there are many changes in terms of projects, priorities, and team composition; it also allows for better connection between employees who might not always be in the office due to compressed or other flexible work arrangements
  • Not daily: A few people mentioned that they could not commit to daily meetings, they needed more focused time to get work done without interruptions and to be able to effectively participate in the check ins, they needed to spend additional 15 minutes beforehand to prep and reflect; so reducing the frequency would make it more manageable and effective
  • Fun: A few said they were fun, but would be more useful if more team members used them, so you could actually quickly see at a glance who is busy and who is not
  • Reluctance: It was brought up that it can be difficult to decide what one’s capacity is, as it can fluctuate significantly during the day and that there was some discomfort with sending the wrong signal about how much work someone had on their plate (for example, having constantly too much on their plate and overwhelming others)

What did I learn?

  • would people feel uncomfortable sharing with the other team members how they really feel (psychological safety)
  • would most folks feel like they need to show up as ‘being busy’ (because that might mean they have lots of important things on the go) or maybe the reverse ‘being available’ (because there is so much to do and they think they are expected to take on more)
  • would folks use the same background throughout the week because they feel their state just does not change (either because they consistently feel this way or because they would not take the time to dig deeper)
  • Our team is comfortable reflecting on and sharing how they really feel about their work — there is a sense of transparency, honesty and trust — it really warmed my heart to see this!
  • Asking for help is a habit that we will need to continue working on across the teams
  • My assumptions about who may have been busy were at times incorrect!
  • So the first day, I communicated that my “plate was full”
  • The next day, I showed up with “way too much going on” (7+ meetings)
  • And the following day, when I had a scheduling conflict and could not make it to the capacity check, I chose to post my update in the chat and decided to “make some space” for helping others
Screenshot of Teams message with an image of cups and plates stacked on the side, with some room left. The message tells the team that I have some room to help others and also that I need help.
Telling the team that I have room to help, while also asking for help

So then the question is, if there still seems to be inherent value in such meetings, how do we as a team make it so everyone is able to attend without being overwhelmed?

Remixed background images with new iconography to more accurately capture how things are going at work (used with permission).



:: digital content specialist — passionate about open learning + inclusion + collaboration + systems + stewardship + learning design + reflective practice ::

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ksenia cheinman

:: digital content specialist — passionate about open learning + inclusion + collaboration + systems + stewardship + learning design + reflective practice ::