moderate a critical talk

I want to talk about a new experience I made in my job, how it originated, what the task is and how it worked out for me. 

During the past year with the participation with all the employees of the company I work in, we developed growth strategies for our company. We formed different teams and created possible strategies and structures to accompany the growth of our firm, both in an economical way but also in regard to personal growth and growing structures in general.

During this team work, my team and I formed a new concept of „critics rounds“, which we wanted to introduce as a regular concept into our daily working routine.

The idea behind this was, that we wanted our firm to keep it’s principles, even if we would be growing a lot in the upcoming years. We wanted the spirit in the company to stay alive and not lose our authenticity to economical growth.

Having started as a very small company with only a handful of people, we always had the opportunity to practice criticism and talk openly to eachother on a regular basis. When we sat together at lunch or had a general meeting, things were being clarified very quickly because there were only few people who knew eachother quite good and you could adress a person directly and talk openly about problems or difficulties.

Now that we are a lot more people, and plan to become even more, we want to prevent the company from becoming an anonymous place where you try to do your job and keep your mouth shut because there is a lot of people and you can’t fight all the fights all the time!

The concept is to have a critics round in each team in a specific interval (starting in a 2 weeks rythm), where you log off of your computers and phones and take the time to talk openly about problems within the team, between certain people or with special situations. Each team gets a spokeswoman or spokesman, who has to moderate the group talk, organize the order the talk is structured in, ask questions, takes notes, watch the time and control the contributions of the team members.

The goal is to achieve a positive, honest and open atmosphere for critizism within the firm. People in the company shouldn’t have to be afraid to speak out loudly, when they face a problem with a colleague or the whole team. Critizism should be a constructive way of improving the working atmosphere and processes.

I volunteered to be a spokeswoman of one team and even though we had prepaired guidelines and different methods to lead a critical talk, I was quite nervous to moderate the first critics round last week. I won’t go into topical details, but can tell a bit about the structure, the talk was being held in.

The first thing to do is a round, where every person in the group has to tell a little bit about their actual emotional setting right in that moment. This helps the rest of the group to be more empathetic towards eachother, when entering the discussion. The second thing to happen is to have all members of the group report about their last two weeks at work. What problems did they face? Were there any difficulties, issues or negative behaviour? Were there positive moments, situations, that needed special handling or was the atmosphere especially good or bad in the office?

The spokeswoman (or man) has to pay good attention, compare the contributions and then follow up and ask questions to go deeper and talk about the source of the problem, the motivation of ones argument or the misbehaviour. During the discussion, there are certain possibilities to control it, for example by asking for a minute of silence, when an argument gets heated. At the end, there doesn’t have to be a solution, but it is important to document the topics and conflicts, if possible agree on some actions the team wants to take to improve the situation and then follow up in the next critics round.

My first critics round started with a lot of laughter and jokes, not everyone wanted to take the concept seriously. Quickly the discussion became very intense, but in a very constructive way. Many topics came to light, a lot of frustration was put into words, but also a lot of understanding and agreement with eachothers issues was found. I tried to guide the discussion, ask critical questions, summarize some statements and tried to focus on finding possible solutions for the future. The group talk was very fluent, everybody was open to add to the discussion and I could feel a strong team spirit (I hate this word, but it describes it pretty good).

I received good feedback, we all agreed that this was a succesful first round and that the concept indeed made sense.

I finished this day very tired and with a mind full of thoughts, but very fulfilled and motivated. I hadn’t expected to have such a positive effect for myself but am really looking forward to evolve in this new role and develop more and more skills on the way.

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