Task-Based Criticism

The Assumption

If criticism (within organisations) is specific and task-centred (rather than person-centred and generalised), it will provide more useful feedback) that will:

  1. Make the task/s more successful.
  2. Improve the social bonding among team members.
  3. Create a better working atmosphere
  4. Cultivate a sense of willingness among team members.

THE EXERCISE A task involving controversial issues is conducted in teams of four. The argumentation that accompanies it is recorded and analysed to discover where the working discussions are focused. Marks are awarded by asking the following questions about the feedback:

  1. Is it directed to the most appropriate person/s working on the task? (i.e. a diplomatic intervention)
  2. Does it convey information that is appropriate to the task? (e.g. rather than at the person doing the task)
  3. Does it focus in sufficient detail to enable the recipient to grasp the specific point? (e.g. rather than a generalisation)
  4. Is it couched as an affirmative, constructive proposal? (e.g. rather than as a disapproval or disagreement)
  5. Is it timed to synchronise with the most appropriate critical moments in the whole task?
  6. Does it contribute positively to the practical fulfilment of agreed outcomes? (i.e. more than a criticism)
  7. Does it energise/empower/encourage on an emotional level, while making its point?
  • Participants are asked whether they agree with the value system implied by the score weightings.

Adaption v. Control

  • The history of industrialisation shows that humans have always had to make a trade-off between two things:
    • being able to make the natural world more manageable.
    • being able to adapt to uncertainties in the natural world
  • It is hard to balance these tactics and even harder to do both at the same time.
  • The global economy remains a competitive environment that calls for discipline and efficiency.
  • Discipline and efficiency enables organisations to scale-up their enterprises.
  • Scaling-up makes the operational world seem more predictable and controllable than it is (e.g. climate change).
  • Global uncertainties may mean that successful organisations will be more alert, creative and adaptive to change.


  • The downside is that it needs managerial hierarchies that increasingly separate managers from employees.
  • e.g. bureaucratic processes standardise procedures using simplified naming and measurement criteria.
  • The need to eradicate ambiguity or fuzziness leads to a reduced working vocabulary and methodology.
  • A reduced working vocabulary may mean that day-to-day actions look different from how they are described on paper.
  • This may mean that many of the insights and opportunities in the experience of doing things may be overlooked.
  • One common aspect of this problem is the mismatch between task-focused and purpose-focused actions.
  • Bureaucratic systems tend to focus on task-defined actions, rather than purpose-defined actions.
    • e.g. the quest to reduce delays in hospital waiting lists, rather than make the general population healthier.
  • One way to address this paradox is by focusing alternately on purpose and actuality.

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