How Self Appointed Moderators Hijack Feedback Sessions

Improving the feedback process and self-appointed moderators

As a company that works with creatives daily, we’ve grown to love big personalities. However, we’re also on a mission to improve the professional feedback process among teams, creative agencies and organizations and one of the biggest roadblocks is an “over zealous” personality.

So, today we’re going to introduce our first antagonist of the feedback process: the self-appointed moderator. We’ll call her SAM for short.

First of all, moderators are important. In fact, in a typical controlled focus group, a qualified moderator is often the only thing that can guarantee that the conversation will unlock insights and yield quality conversation. Unfortunately, most internal feedback sessions within organizations are not as formalized as a focus group. The only organization is usually a simple calendar invite and someone to explain why the group is all there. There is no one nominated to make sure all voices are heard, to probe people to explain further and to ensure conflict in the room is healthy. Without such a moderator (trained or untrained), feedback sessions become a little like Lord of the Flies, and the conch shell is up for taking so to speak. Enter: SAM

The Stages of Self-Appointment

1) Setting the Scene

As one would expect, the person taking charge of the conversation is either intentionally trying to control the outcome to their benefit (or their team/agency/departments’) or innocently and unintentionally just a extrovert supreme. Either way, the opening scenes are unmistakably similar: SAM positions herself at the head of the table or remains standing and opens up with a remark about how they want to frame the feedback session. Let’s watch SAM work:

“So I think, that in order to achieve the goals of today, we need to points a and b.”

Because the control is not completely established, SAM next shows her authority by assigning some basic roles:

“Josh - Can you take some notes for us? Sara - how about keeping track of time for us?”

After setting the framework and objectives for the meeting, and establishing a leadership position, the real influence can be exerted.

2) Implanting the Core Idea

Whether it’s a meeting to discuss a creative brief, or a feedback session to discuss an annual fiscal strategy, the first remarks often dictate where the conversation will spend the most time focused on.

Think of it as the person responsible for setting the route, start and finish points of a 5k race. The runners can go at any speed they chose and may feel like they are in control of the outcome, but the race organizer has essentially controlled what terrain will be covered and knows where the runners will end up.   

3) Judging The Good and the Bad Ideas

Inevitably, several voices will be heard during the feedback process, and they will either support or contradict what the main current of the conversation has been. A trained, and unbiased moderator would use the contrasting opinions to strengthen, discredit or improve the majority opinion, but a self-interested and self-appointed moderator often finds a way of acknowledging without accepting the opposing views. Watch SAM deflect:

“Anthony, that’s great feedback, but I think we can come back to that a little later”

4) Wrapping Up

Feedback sessions notoriously run over time limits and are usually unconcluded. One of the biggest flaws in the process is that follow up sessions to delve deeper into conflicts and resolving outstanding issues is hardly done. This is a golden opportunity for the self-appointed moderator; Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows that they who own the project, owns the outcome. The way this works in the feedback process is:

SAM speaks “Ok, that was a great session. I know there was some disagreement in a few areas. In the interest of time, how about I volunteer to take the notes from Josh, compile a summary of today, and send to everyone via email for feedback and try to get consensus?”

Exhausted, everyone agrees, perhaps knowing (but accepting nonetheless) that they will have little influence from this point on of the final outcome.

5) Presenting the Story

Usually, there is a boss that needs to provide final sign off and budget. SAM barely received any feedback on the notes she circulated to the team, so is left (as expected) with drawing her own conclusions. There are no transcripts of the meeting, no tools to analyze all the feedback and no further follow up meetings. Therefore, SAM is left with the control and actual accountability bestowed upon her from the team to present her version of the events to the big boss.

The Impact on the Feedback Process - What Just Happened???

Let’s just step back and confess that we’ve vilified SAM for effect. Most of the time, the self-appointed moderator is doing so for innocent reasons. We also hate being part of sessions that have no direction and that get out of control. We too get the urge to step up and try to add some structure to the meeting for the benefit of everyone in the room. However, if we aren’t careful, the presence of SAM is often felt in these sessions and the outcome is often polluted as a result.

The limited time set aside for feedback sessions is controlled by:

  • Who sets the objectives of the session (what do we need to walk out in agreement of)

  • What the first 10-15 minutes are spent discussing (where the race starts)

  • Who controls and conducts the contrasting opinions to build something stronger

  • Who walks out of the meeting with notes

  • Who is accountable for keeping the conversation going and setting up further sessions

  • Who crafts the final story

  • Who presents findings for final approval

Have you met SAM? Tell us about it 

Want a way to kick SAM out of the meeting? Learn about our products here, including our new BigTeam internal feedback platform.