There's a team lead who chooses to address the entire team whenever there is a problem with one employee. It's usually trivial to tell who is being referred to because the issue will be with something like, "two hour lunches", "chatting too much with staff who are not on break", "forgetting to clock out", etc. Situations where one can think to oneself, "Ah yeah, that'd be Steve" or "Yep, that's Alice."

I'm not really concerned with how to handle this situation at my own workplace but as a relatively young (aka inexperienced) professional looking to one day get into management, I'm curious how effective of a tool this is. Is it better to have an individual meeting with the employee who has behavior that needs to be addressed or is it a wise tactic to simply address the whole team?

Clearly the simple answer is, "It depends" but I think we can agree that we're intelligent enough to discern the obvious examples of that statement. I'd like to know, by-and-large, which is the more effective tactic?

  • 2
    First offence or two: group. Repeat offender: individual in private.
    – Jane S
    Jul 26, 2016 at 22:03
  • Even if only one person did something, you might as well save your breath by just telling everyone at once. Also, the public nature of the notice - and any peer-pressure that results IF people know who is referred to - is far more effective than a private chat. Stocks, anyone?
    – user37746
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:30
  • 2
    As a logical extension of be selective on group reprimands - Leadership Pro Tip: Don't make new rules as knee jerk reaction to every negative thing not covered in the employee manual.
    – Myles
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:38
  • 1
    I read up on it because I had a feeling that this is one of those situations with lots of varying cases, and so no simple platitude answer need apply. I could think of several reasons to praise or criticize, publicly, privately, whatever... This is why we pay experienced managers good money: they work for us. Take a look at the several links I have posted in Comments. Lots of food for thought! Thank you for asking a very good question!
    – user37746
    Jul 28, 2016 at 2:13
  • 1
    It's actually the way that positive dog trainers look at the world. Instead of focusing on behavior you don't want, you make behaviors you do want easier than behaviors you don't want and reinforce those. If I get time, I'll expand out to an answer because it's a viewpoint that is not common in western society. Jul 28, 2016 at 18:26

6 Answers 6


Is it really a problem where the group is letting standards slip and needs to be reigned in even if one or two people are pushing the envelope further or is it really an issue with a single person?

With your two hour lunch example, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that would really be something that only one person was guilty of. Most likely, people on the team gradually started taking the "lunch hour" as a rough guideline rather than a hard limit and an hour turned into 70 minutes with an occasional 90 minute lunch on Friday. Sure, perhaps one person is particularly egregious about it but frequently you'd have other people on the team that have gotten the implicit message that you don't care too much about exactly how long their lunch is. If you need to counteract that implicit message, you have to address the team. Maybe you address the worst offender privately as well for emphasis particularly if it continues.

On the other hand, if there literally is only one person that needs the correction, talking to the team is likely to be counterproductive. If only one person is forgetting to clock out, addressing the team may well make that person believe that everyone on the team is being forgetful and that they're not an outlier. And you'll probably have someone else that is generally very conscientious but forgot one day last month who thinks that the message is aimed at him and will panic. Taking the one person that has the issue aside will be far more productive.

  • 4
    I love the insight that someone who's not doing anything wrong may think the message is for them. Jul 26, 2016 at 23:48
  • If the one particular outlier continues, you can always talk with them alone later, saying, "I brought this up in a meeting, weren't you listening?"
    – user37746
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:33
  • 2
    @AmyBlankenship Having been in this situation myself I can confirm that this action can backfire and be quite detrimental in a case where the manager addressed everyone instead of the person at fault. By the time I found out that the negative comment was not directed at me it was too late as my reputation and moral had already taken a hit.
    – Underverse
    Jul 28, 2016 at 7:17

Negative feedback and correction should almost always be done in private when it concerns a single, identifiable individual.

The "it depends" is pretty minimal in situations like what you are describing. If it's a single employee, you really need to deal with it directly to that individual.

No one likes being reprimanded. Particularly in front of their entire team.

Group reprimands should be an absolute last resort (even for a single person). Ideally, only after having dealt with the individual in question and appropriate consequences given.

  • 3
    "Criticise in private, praise in public." Unless it's a general problem that the whole team needs to work on preventing.
    – keshlam
    Jul 26, 2016 at 23:08
  • @keshlam in this situation the OP has specifically stated that a single employee is identifiable from the public reprimand.
    – enderland
    Jul 26, 2016 at 23:08
  • Agreed! I was just trying to give a more general condensed guideline.
    – keshlam
    Jul 26, 2016 at 23:09
  • Gotcha. I clarified my statement. Never make absolutes, eh? :)
    – enderland
    Jul 26, 2016 at 23:15
  • 2
    Absolutely. An absolute statement is always inherently suspect. ;-)
    – keshlam
    Jul 26, 2016 at 23:55

There is a simple rule of thumb that I used when addressing my team. This is, of course, assuming that the issue is not major, in which case you immediately do a one on one, or depending what happened with HR involved.


  • For the first offence or two, then I would address the group. Make it general and moderately light. If you are speaking to the entire team, ensure that you are not singling out any one person.

  • If I have a repeat offender, then I'd take them to the side and speak to them individually.

Of course, discretion sometimes is required, and that's a normal part of becoming an experienced manager.

  • 2
    Support for your position from Harvard Business Review: hbr.org/2013/03/how-criticizing-in-private-und
    – user37746
    Jul 27, 2016 at 18:31
  • 2
    I would have to add a caveat to your first point. At a previous role I had not followed a proper process with regards to taking some personal leave (the part of the process I missed was emailing the team to notify them) and then an email was sent out shortly afterwards giving "everyone" a reminder of the process when no one had taken leave recently other than me. I think this was in rather poor taste and should be done in private. If however there were 2 or 3 people who done this in succession I think it would be more appropriate.
    – fib112358
    Jul 28, 2016 at 7:24
  • @fib112358 perhaps it was embarrassing to you, but that doesn't make it wrong.
    – user37746
    Jul 28, 2016 at 18:22
  • @nocomprende, are we really going to get into a discussion of what is "wrong"?
    – fib112358
    Jul 30, 2016 at 10:51
  • @fib112358 we do not need to. Work makes its own rules, constrained only by laws. Family, friends, community and public are all separate spheres and have their own definitions of "right and wrong", as does every individual. The best approach is to do what works best for all concerned in each situation as it arises. This removes the need to make definitions and rules.
    – user37746
    Aug 2, 2016 at 13:13

Speaking, now, "strictly as an individual ..."

"If you mean to talk to ME, then, by gawd, talk to ME!"

Don't you dare(!) put me into a "group-meeting situation" in which I, growing ever more red-in-the-face by the second, am subjected to the public(!) humiliation of "being referred-to obliquely" by someone who hadn't the guts(!) ... (ahem) ... to speak to me (in gracious privacy) by name.

"You got a beef with ME? Then, by gawd, talk to ME about it. In ... private!"

"Yeah, it's not too much to ask."

If you have an issue with an individual employee, then that is a person-to-person encounter, and you should absolutely treat it as such. (Perhaps, with a representative of HR in attendance. By all means, discuss the matter first with HR, before you involve the employee.)

You should only present "team matters" to "the team."

  • It seems like you are making it very personal, so knowing that you might feel this way, I would be extremely reluctant to talk with you alone. If you could be more reasonable and less huffy, you might get your wish. You are paid to work, not have a big ego and take things personally.
    – user37746
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:37
  • While I value your opinion, I think it is important to point out that it is exactly that, a subjective opinion. You clearly prefer to be talked to directly about the problem, but some people, who are more averse to conflict, will prefer the indirect route. Sometimes effectively leading a team is about understanding the perspective and needs of the individuals that make up the team.
    – Lumberjack
    Jul 27, 2016 at 20:45

If someone doesn't want to be "The person who takes a two hour lunch break." then they need to stop doing it. The boss isn't mentioning names and is just taking the most efficient route of addressing this in front of everyone so they all know the rules. It can help a manager to have group buy-in for the rules. Also, it benefits the group if they know the culprit is not getting away with it. Many people won't say anything to management, but will criticize them behind their back for letting other people slack.

For things that are either not common/specific to a particular job or task that no one else does, very serious offenses and/or are of a private nature (sexual-harassment, which I realize is also very serious), they should be handled in private.

At some point, it needs to be determined why you have a team and discuss things as a group. Otherwise, deal with everyone individually and send out a memo for things pertaining to everyone. No sense discussing them as a group if the interpretation or administration rules are going to be handled one-on-one.

  • 2
    "Also, it benefits the group if they know the culprit is not getting away with it. Many people won't say anything to management, but will criticize them behind their back for letting other people slack." That's an outstanding point and tactic that I hadn't considered.
    – 8protons
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:55

Praise in public, criticize in private. Simple.

  • 1
    I didn't downvote, but I wanted to add that there can be many facets to this type of situation. I found these two articles (one author): tinalewisrowe.com/2008/04/29/praise-in-public-lombardi -- tinalewisrowe.com/2008/04/30/….
    – user37746
    Jul 27, 2016 at 18:18
  • 2
    Punish one, teach a hundred.
    – user8365
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:53
  • @JeffO Reminds me of the anecdote from "The Art of War" where Sun Tzu demonstrated his methods to an interested King by teaching the 160 concubines marching maneuvers, divided into 2 companies with the two most loved ones acting as Commanders. At first they all giggled and didn't listen, so he said that when orders are unclear, it is up to the General to explain. Next time, they still didn't obey, so he said, if orders are clear and not obeyed it is a matter of discipline. So he had the two "Commanders" beheaded. Things improved after that. "Punish in public" indeed. In the Military, anyway.
    – user37746
    Jul 28, 2016 at 2:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .