Develop a Culture of Comfortable Criticism

I just saw a list of eleven characteristics of effective teams (MacGregor, Kaztenbach and Smith) and it spurred my thinking about worship teams and church staff teams.

One characteristic struck me as an immediate way to help build a culture of effectiveness in your team.   Effective Team Characteristic #10: Criticism is frequent, frank and relatively comfortable.  Do you find this attribute to be true in your team, work or ministry culture?

Most worship teams and staff teams I have been associated with probably could use help in creating this kind of culture.  People want to be and do their best and it takes solid, confident leadership to make it happen.  Feedback about how things have gone, how well it worked, what could have been better and how a person can help improve the situation needs to be intentional, regular and loving.  And loving doesn’t mean soft.  Theodore Roosevelt is quoted saying, “The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.”

This can be applied to critiquing. If we are going to jump into the realm of pinpointing an issue to make things better, sugar coating it will only water down the outcome and confuse the conversation.

Critiquing a method, a situation, or a person means helping the team move forward in the greatest mission you have!  Frequent and frank criticism can be done in a loving way and the outcome can be life changing for an individual and an organization.

Obviously, criticism can be uncomfortable – both for the giver and the recipient. But when a leader is committed to helping the people and organization get to where they need to be, an understanding and respect begins to take shape as everyone heads in the same direction.

In reality, the climate in which you are working can become a place where people expect and even desire constructive criticism because they have seen how it can work to enhance both the individual and the team.

Here are some thoughts for creating this kind of culture:

  1. Give compliments generously, but genuinely – your team needs to believe you when you say something is great!
  2. Invite, solicit and receive criticism and pointers from others as you would want them to receive it.  Model receiving these kinds of updates.
  3. Celebrate the accomplishments more than anything – build on successes.
  4. Develop the critic’s eye among your whole team.  When a whole groups gets together to discuss how something worked and is willing to pinpoint general issues, it helps each person sharpen without getting personal.  Don’t attach your heart to a program or situation – be open minded.
  5. Allow criticism to be regular conversation – keep the conversation going and don’t shut the person out or off after sharing what needs to be said.
  6. Pick big enough issue to make a difference, small enough that there is a chance for someone to make a change.
  7. Volunteer teams also need to be spurred on… people want to use their time and gifts effectively and they want to see the fruit of their work.  The best way to do this is to open up the doors to sharpening skills.
  8. Make time in each meeting to look at one area of your ministry or program critically. There is always a way to improve and most of the time that happens out of frustration for the way it’s currently working.
  9. As the leader, let it be known that you reserve the right to share critically about the outcome of the goals that are set by your team.  Saying this in advance helps motivate.
  10. Begin slowly – build a culture of doing this in love and help people understand – maybe even including you – that we are doing this because we need to improve and make advances in our mission together.
  11. Build up your team, staff and volunteers more often than critiquing them.  When you are in public, thank them, list them, and celebrate accomplishments and work.


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