In the CEDR Solution Center, we help business owners address and solve upwards of 10,000 HR issues every year. Figuring out how to talk to your team about problems is way harder than most imagine, and it tops the list of things that our members ask for help with.
Let’s start this discussion with a brief, high-level breakdown on meetings.
There are generally two types of meetings:
Type One — Team Meetings
These can be regularly scheduled or called to solve a specific set of issues where everyone in the meeting needs to be there.
Type two — One-on-One Meetings
These meetings are generally held to discuss specific behaviors with individual team members (by the way, if it involves three individuals, then it needs to be held as three one-on-ones).
What you don’t want to do is to get the two options mixed up and avoid tough one-on-ones in favor of the softer, gentler, less confrontational team meeting environment when the situation actually calls for a private meeting.
How Managers Feel About Team Meetings
It bears mentioning that managers have different experiences with team meetings, in general. Let’s boil them down to two choices:
- “I love my team meetings, I have it all figured out, and would not go back to not having them. We huddle every morning!”
- “I tried team meetings and they turned into complaint sessions. Frankly, I find them to be a colossal waste of time. They cause more harm than good! And, for that reason, I am out!”
How Managers Feel About One-on-Ones
There is an alternative to team meetings, of course, and that comes in the form of one-on-ones.
When used to address problems, such one-on-one meetings are formally referred to as “corrective actions.” Corrective actions provide an opportunity to discuss the need for improvement or a change in behavior.
Some managers steer clear of corrective actions because they can feel confrontational and, in some ways, they are. This is true because, in order for those meetings to be effective, they need to happen as soon as a problem occurs.
In corrective one-on-ones, often times your employees are on guard. You might even be upset over the issue you’re addressing, which is not an ideal way to go into a meeting if you expect to get positive results.
Back to which type of meeting is the appropriate forum for addressing team issues…
Just as important as which type of meeting is the most “appropriate” forum for addressing a specific issue is the question of which is the most likely to garner improvement.
Many business owners are told (or tend to call) a team meeting as soon as a problem arises at their business that needs to be addressed. And, where this is a good approach in many cases, it isn’t a great idea across the board with all issues that might come up.
When you’re talking about general policies, systemic problems that require a team solution, scheduling issues or changes, upcoming events that will affect the entire team, problems that require a solution from the group at large, or specific business-related situations that your whole team can learn from or work together to solve (success stories and examples of everyone pulling together or, on the flip side of that, breakdowns in your systems or processes), it is appropriate to hold a team meeting.
But, where things start to go wrong is when issues that should be addressed on an individual basis are brought to the attention of your entire staff in a public setting.
Let me give examples.
Imagine that lots of people on your team are arriving late for work. Though this might look like a team problem because the issue is happening with several people, it’s not.
Each person who is late is choosing to be late. In this instance, if you call a team meeting of ten people where only three people are creating the issue, you are going to have seven completely disengaged employees in your meeting and three who are in denial.
In the end, you’re probably going to have more people start to show up late because the takeaway message from your team meeting was, “I guess I can hide in the pack and start showing up late, too!”
Another example would be addressing drama between employees. While the drama creators are probably causing problems for the entire team, the actual problem comes from those that are not focused on work and are instead creating drama and forming clicks.
Deal with individual issues on an individual basis.
One common misconception that many business owners have is that holding a meeting with everyone at once will save you time. While we would agree that having one group meeting would take less time than having six different meetings with six different individuals, the problems created by dealing with individual issues in a group setting could easily cause this strategy to backfire.
Your goal is not to save time — it is to get people to show up on time. The objective for your meetings, therefore, is to have effective conversations that get great outcomes.
If there are problems at your business that are being caused by a single person or a particular subset of people, it is best to have any necessary conversations with the individuals causing the issue(s) on an individual basis. There are a couple of different reasons for this:
Having team meetings about individual problems is a morale killer.
Calling out poor-performing employees in a group setting is a great way to breed bad blood between yourself and the employees, and to add more people to the problem.
Having those tough conversations in private gives you the opportunity to address the problem at its source, it preserves the offending employee’s dignity, it enables you both to discuss and work toward a mutual solution, and it creates accountability.
You know what else it creates? An opportunity for the employee to improve and for you to recognize that improvement! If last week we discussed your attitude, and this week we meet and your attitude is better, I’m going to let you know.
If it doesn’t lead your other employees to start adopting the bad behavior you’re addressing with your whole team, calling out issues in a group that only apply to a select few employees can also serve to put your non-offending employees on edge. Save the tough conversations for the employees that need them rather than calling the entire group out at once.
Calling employees out in a group allows the actual culprit(s) to avoid taking personal accountability.
Imagine you’re upset at a couple employees for spending an inordinate amount of time on their phones and so you decide to reiterate your company policy on cell phone use as part of a group meeting. Doing so might allow you to get your point across, but it does not call out the individual for individual behavior.
A simple, private, “Hey, what’s going on? I see you’ve been on your phone more than usual,” can be enough. Or perhaps what’s needed is something more like, “I have to tell you that if I can see you on your phone then the patients can, too. And, regardless of what’s going on, I need you to be personally mindful of our policy and commitment to our core values. The top one — we are not distracted.”
When might it be appropriate to have a group meeting about cell phone use at work? When you are about to enact a new policy that applies to everyone.
Sometimes Tough Conversations Are the Right Approach
As you can probably tell, this guidance is designed around convincing you to buck up and take on individual issues with the people on your team who can actually do something about “the problem.”
As the CEO here at CEDR, I want you to know that, in past times with other businesses, I used to call team meetings in order to avoid having tough conversations with individuals. I simply did not have the tools or the experience to know how to do so.
If you are like I was, below you’ll find some additional resources about having very direct conversations with individuals that will work both in your business and your life: