When to Give Feedback in a Group and When to Do It One-on-One

give feedback one on one

 

If you’re like most leaders, you’re probably reluctant to give an individual feedback in a team meeting. You’ve probably learned to praise in public and criticize in private. You may be concerned that if you give feedback in a group setting, you’ll put that person on the spot, get him or her defensive, make everyone else in the room uncomfortable, and strain the team’s working relationships. That’s why leaders tend to focus on the risks of giving feedback in a team, but miss the risks of inappropriately giving feedback one-on-one.

Giving feedback in the right setting is important. It affects your team’s performance, working relationships and well-being. Here are some guidelines and explanations for when to give feedback in a team setting, and when to offer it one-one one:

Give feedback in a team setting when:

  • One or more team members are experiencing negative consequences caused by other team members.
  • Team members are the source of the feedback.
  • The issue involves most of the team.

People need feedback about their behavior directly from those who have first-hand information. Only these team members can validate the feedback and fully answer the inevitable questions about the effects of the behavior being discussed. For example, if you are giving feedback to your direct report Carla about how her teammates aren’t able to meet their deadlines because she’s giving them low-quality work, you won’t be able to answer Carla’s questions about her teammates concerns — only they will.

It’s even worse when you give feedback to Carla and don’t tell her who is concerned about the quality of her work. By granting Carla’s teammates confidentiality, you not only prevent her from getting answers that would help her to fully change her behavior, you also contribute to mistrust between team members who are unwilling to address their concerns with each other.

In either case, unless the problem is a simple one, you’ll likely need to involve Carla’s teammates to solve the problem. Even if Carla does agree that the quality of her work is suffering, she may believe that it is due — at least in part — to other teammates. Remember that a team is a system of interdependent individuals working together to accomplish a task. Solving a team-level problem with only one or two team members will usually just create new problems.

Even if you are able to solve the performance problem by speaking only with Carla, you will still have contributed to strained working relationships. Carla and her teammates who privately complained to you about her will all know this open secret and it will undermine team trust.

Give feedback one-on-one when:

  • Other team members are not being affected by the behavior and have no information to provide.
  • You want to help the team member prepare for receiving team feedback or coach the team member after receiving feedback from other team members.

Giving feedback in a team setting when others aren’t being affected or don’t have information to share will lead the rest of the team feeling like their time is being wasted. The team member receiving the feedback will justifiably feel called out. If only one team member is directly experiencing the negative consequences of another’s behavior, it’s better to have those two people speak in private.

It’s appropriate to help prepare someone for a team feedback conversation. This enables you to explain your reasoning for addressing it in the team setting and to help the individual prepare for both receiving and giving feedback in the meeting. It’s also helpful to coach the person after the team meeting, identifying what he needs to do to create any change he agreed to in the team meeting. These meetings are in addition to — not a substitute for — feedback in the team setting.

Do not decide on the feedback setting based on how comfortable you or other team members are giving feedback in a team setting or how comfortable you assume the team member is receiving feedback in a team setting. Comfort is overrated. The job of leaders — whether team leaders or team members — is to act effectively, even when they are feeling uncomfortable.

Underlying this approach is the principle that team members are accountable for giving feedback directly to those with whom they are interdependent. Apart from team members doing their own work, this is the most basic form of team accountability. Leaders are continually exhorting their employees to work as a team and to be accountable to the team. But, if you always provide the feedback, you take away the opportunity for your direct reports to develop this essential skill, and you undermine the accountability required to function as a team.

If you’re thinking that it makes sense to give feedback on team issues in a team setting, but you’re concerned that your team doesn’t have the skills to do this, you’re not alone. Many leaders share this concern. You can begin changing this by talking with your team about how you expect team members to be accountable to each other — not just to you or the larger organization. If you share your expectations for your direct reports, agree on how you’ll work together, and give your team the skills to meet the agreed-upon expectation, you’ll find that problems get addressed sooner, fewer issues land on your own desk, and your team becomes a more productive, cohesive unit.

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