One of the areas that I covered during a session I ran at XP 2011 on making feedback work in teams was the idea of giving feedback in public.
The general consensus seems to be that giving feedback in public isn’t a good idea and it’d much more effective to give that feedback privately.
I think this is a good rule of thumb and my observations are that feedback given in public tends to not be given in a very constructive manner and therefore leads to a defensive response from the recipient.
On the other hand if it’s done in quite an informal joke-y way then I think it’s less of a problem.
On the last team that I worked on we created some ‘pillars’ for our team which contained some choice phrases that we used to shout across the room at each other whenever someone wasn’t displaying one of them.
I don’t remember anyone reacting in a defensive way to having someone quoting one of the pillars and it actually seemed to act as a nice reminder that they’d lost focus on their work, were taking things too seriously or something else.
The other situation where I don’t know that it needs to be completely private is when there’s a lot of trust between the people in a group and there’s no repercussions from any of the feedback being exchanged.
For example I wrote last year about how Christian, Dermot and I had done a feedback session with all 3 of us in the room, each giving feedback to the other two.
I think the trust thing is important in that situation because if there was someone in management looking on the discussion as part of a performance review then it could quickly become a witch hunt against a person.