Criticism in team work

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It is an old custom to ask somebody to stay behind for a one-on-one talk after a meeting in order to voice criticism. The old motto of praising in public and criticizing in private may however undermine the moral of the team as Roger Schwarz argues in the “Harvard Business Review”.
 
Real teams are characterized by interdependency not only with regard to the task but also with regard to accountability. Criticizing in private is shifting accountability in an unproductive manner to the leader of a team and away from the interaction of the team members. In addition, singling out team members may be inappropriate since their performance depends on others. The talk under four eyes is often more a misperception of the leadership role and an expression of the avoidance to give negative feedback in public. Schwarz advises team leaders to make the team aware of the common accountability and that this necessarily implies also open and honest criticism. Accountability should be explicated and become a regular subject in meetings.
 
In fact singling out somebody after a team meeting is always problematic. First, what was said often finds its way into the team in an informal and biased way. The fact of the talk as such will be noted and discussed. Second, frequently leaders prefer the one-on-one talk because they have difficulties to voice criticism in an appropriate manner. Effective criticism requires a thoughtful approach between the facts and the communication. It is critical that facts be established, but in a manner that is not damaging the individual and team to the point that the group becomes ineffective. Therefore criticism in private should be a method of last resort. Addressing the problem in front of the whole team may be more demanding in its formulation, but is more productive with regard to solving the problem and establishing open communication.