How to get the most out of ‘criticism’ meetings

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Simple techniques will make a significant difference to your meetings.

Meetings are seldom relished – especially when managers or team leaders need to address delicate issues. Missed goals or deadlines. Falling short of KPIs. Disciplinary issues.

These are often unpleasant and stressful for all participants – sometimes even more so for managers or team leaders.

To be able handle a sensitive meeting, and to achieve positive changes in the team, takes a little savvy.

Let’s dive in.

 

Show strong leadership

It is vital that managers define the objectives of the meeting clearly, long before the agenda is drawn up. What decisions or actions should come out of the meeting? What additional information or knowledge should the meeting produce?

Are some objectives be better communicated in document form? Is certain criticism better discussed face-to-face with the person concerned, rather than with the group?

Who should be included in the meeting and what value will they contribute?

 

Don’t neglect the agenda

A well-crafted agenda is the key to a successful meeting. It speeds the process and ensures that everybody understand the objectives and the outcomes.

Vague agendas don’t give participants the information they need to become actively involved. The more descriptive an agenda item is, the better prepared participants will be.

Carefully consider each agenda item. Where appropriate, describe briefly the reason for discussing each topic and clearly state desired outcomes. Add terse notes to each point – notes such as ‘for information’, ‘for discussion’ and ‘for decision’.

Don’t forget to allocate a realistic amount of time to each agenda item – and for the overall meeting. Good time-keeping is the mark of a good manager or meeting chair.

 

Stop tolerating bad behaviour

You may encounter considerable kick-back initially, but if you want to be a strong leader, you need to stop tolerating certain behaviour in meetings.

Start on time

Turning up late for a meeting – especially if doing so holds up the start-time – is inexcusable. It shows disrespect for the manager and for co-workers. After a two- or three-minute grace period, those arriving late should not be allowed to join.

It will only happen once!

Say no to cellphones

In the interests of running shorter and far more effective meetings, keep your meetings cellphone-free. If a meeting extends beyond an hour or so, allow for short breaks.

Don’t allow side-work

Along with the use of phones, tablets or laptops, prevent any work or distraction that takes the focus off the meeting. Unless there is discipline in this respect, meetings will take far longer and will have considerably less impact.

 

Prepare for sensitive meetings

It is inevitable that during certain meetings, the chairperson (manager or team leader) will have to openly raise criticism. Thorough preparation for this sort of engagement is vital.

Be clear about the issue

Gather the facts and methodically check them. Good leaders win the respect of their teams by being honest and trustworthy. Presenting irrefutable facts is vital to this process.

Analyse facts and clearly define what impact these will have on the individual in question, on the team and on the organisation. If appropriate, have these issues been addressed from an empathetic or compassionate perspective?

Know your objectives

Clearly define the most desirable outcomes of the meeting. Are the objectives fair and transparent? Is there equality in how team members are treated? Will the proposed engagement benefit the individual, the team and the organisation?

Keep an open mind

Review the facts and reflect on any preconceived ideas you might have had. Be open to alternative thinking. Resist the attitude of ‘my way or the highway’.

Holding sensitive meetings

Got the preparation out of the way? Let’s take a look at the meeting itself.

Leverage team dynamics

It’s vital to use meetings and other activities to establish and maintain the team identity – especially to develop and reinforce relationships of trust and interdependence. Discussing sensitive issues within this framework is far more likely to succeed.

In most cases, problems with individuals are best addressed in one-on-one coaching, mentoring or disciplinary meetings. Good leaders use team meetings to address only those issues where the team is both collectively responsible and able to take corrective action.

But there’s no way to guarantee that individual criticism will never be raised at an open forum. The astute leader will acknowledge the issue and undertake to address it ‘offline’.

 

Manage emotions

Criticism is bound to trigger emotions. To achieve the best possible outcomes, these emotions need to be well managed.

Avoid direct accusation, sarcasm and patronising language. At all costs preserve the dignity of your team. If collective or individual emotions spike, rather agree to park that issue and reintroduce it in another, more appropriate forum.

 

Takeaways for managers and team leaders

  • Clearly define the framework and ‘rules’ for the effective management of your meetings.
  • Clearly define the objectives and outcomes for each meeting.
  • Gather appropriate information and adequately prepare for meetings.
  • Build a detailed agenda.
  • Distribute the agenda with enough time for people to prepare.
  • Maintain strong discipline within your meetings.
  • Keep individual performance or behavioural issues out of team meetings.
  • Use meetings to help build a positive team identity.
  • Avoid or defuse emotional issues in broader meetings.