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How to Increase Self-Awareness Through Reviews

Teams, where team members have high levels of self-awareness, have not only better but also more sustainable high performance. Individuals can be self-aware but teams can be also. What do we mean by self-awareness exactly?


Being Self-Aware Means:

  • Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing your overdone strengths i.e. a strength that you overuse so that people start to see it as a weakness (e.g. too much flexibility will be seen as indecisiveness etc)


  • Being aware how others perceive you and the impact of your behaviour on people around you


  • Understanding how your ‘hidden-self’ influences your behaviour and how others see you. Your hidden-self includes the ‘truths’ and ‘big beliefs’ you hold about people and the world, your stereotypes and biases, including cognitive bias, your fears and anxieties, limiting self-beliefs, values and principles and any hidden commitments


The Johari Window


The Johari Window as a useful key to self-awareness. Your ‘façade’ or ‘hidden self’ contains the things you know about you but others don’t. This pane of the window should be low, otherwise you are an enigma and people will feel they don’t know you well enough to trust you as a leader or team member. Your ‘blind spot’ is the stuff people say or think about you but you don’t know about. Ideally, this pane must be empty.

Have you ever worked for a boss or with a colleague people told each other lots of ‘stories’ about, and not all of them positive? That can often be a sign of a full blind spot. It is every leader and team members job to at least explore if there are some big hairy beasts in their blind spots. This can be painful at times and some people would rather not know. But just because you don’t know what is in your blind spot doesn’t mean it is not there so you might as well find out as it will be affecting your relationships.

Some people leave stuff to fester in their blind spots for years. Don’t. Nobody thought you were perfect in the first place and people are quite forgiving of your flaws but much less so if you remain willfully ignorant of them! Low self-awareness and issues in blind spots undermine performance through a lack of trust, honesty, cohesion, conflict and slow or no learning. Poor performing teams invariably have leaders and team members with low self-awareness and rather crowded blind spots.


Actions to Raise Self Awareness in Yourself and Your Team

  1. Allow people to know you, judiciously share something of yourself, make yourself a bit vulnerable – this generates closeness and trust
  2. Ensure all team members have high self-awareness, talk about its importance in terms of not just performance but also for relationships and well-being
  3. Teach and role model key feedback questions which raise self-awareness. Emphasise that it is not your team members job to increase your self-awareness; it is yours. You cannot place the onus on others to pluck up the courage to tell you what you really or most need to hear. When inviting feedback you need to give the other person 1) explicit licence to be honest with you, otherwise they will stick with what they think is ‘safe’ to say, 2) clarity on what aspects of you are asking them to feedback on, otherwise, again, they will stick to the safe stuff. So, are you asking them about how you, for instance, conducted a meeting or debriefed something, or more ‘personal’ things such as whether you are a good listener, whether you show care for people or whether your ego sometimes gets in the way?

Here are some feedback questions that help build self-awareness:

  1. What do I do well/should do more of?
  2. What should I stop doing/do less of?
  3. How can I make it more right for you?
  4. What should I do differently?
  5. What are my strengths?
  6. Is there something everybody would like to know about me?
  7. Have I done anything this week to p*** you off? (said with a smile of course)
  8. What does everybody say about me?
  9. What does everybody say about me, but would never say to my face?
Find out more about creating a feedback culture on your team with our blog post.

In short, a smart leader (and team member) recognises that as human beings we are naturally flawed and can always learn, even if you are damn near perfect, circumstances change which outdates this momentary perfection. As a clever leader, you will use your team and the people around you as a calibration tool, constantly fine-tuning your impact on performance and the well-being of your team with the help of those around you!


Accelerating Team Learning through Reviews

‘Reviewing’ along with Self-Awareness is another team ‘hygiene’ value (as are honesty, commitment, feedback and inviting challenges). We call them ‘hygiene’ because even if a team has no other values than these, if it ‘lives’ these six to a very high standard, it will inevitably ‘self-diagnose and self-medicate’ to high performance and well-being.

People and teams have three learning zones. The Comfort Zone, where things are done as routines or on auto-pilot and no learning takes place. The ‘Panic’ Zone where there is so much stretch that adrenaline and cortisol preclude any learning. Lastly, the Stretch Zone, in this zone the team operates just in that fine balance between what they are almost capable of doing (competence) and what they feel they can do (confidence). This means that both the team as well as individual team members will constantly be learning something new or how to do something better. It also means that mistakes will be made.

Reviews are there to make sure successes are captured and shared and that the team learns from mishaps, failures and mistakes. In short, the payback your team gets from reviews is more team learning. You only have to be a few % better than the competition, so if your team(s) simply spends more time in the ‘learning zone’ than the next one, you will, inevitably over time, outperform them.


A few pointers:

  • For effective Reviews, your team needs to adopt a learning mindset as evidenced through frequent ‘brutally honest’ reviews


  • Reviews need to be approached with a mindset that mistakes, failures and mishaps are an opportunity for learning rather than blaming


  • Reviews are NOT a post-mortem and should not be allowed to descend into one of those


  • They encompass the good and the bad i.e. don’t forget about best practices and things that went well, which should be replicated, shared and further improved


  • They should not just cover the ‘hard technical stuff’ – which is typically more comfortable to talk about – but also what is known as ‘team process’ i.e. how well did we work together, did we use our values, did we resolve conflict etc


  • In inexperienced teams, too much time is spent in reviews on celebrating and talking about the ‘good news’. There is a time and place for this but it detracts from learning. A good time split is 10% good news, 70% bad news and things that went wrong, 20% forward-looking/actions and ‘what next’. Another common mistake in inexperienced teams is that in reviews not everybody has a voice. The vocal ones steal the airtime or worse, the boss goes first with his version of events (and everybody duly nods and agrees). Simple antidote, as leader, go last and give everybody a voice e.g. by going around the room or starting with a younger or newer team member first


Some Simple Actions to Turn Reviews into a Team Habit

  1. Explain the value of and best practices (see above) around Reviews as a team habit
  2. Make it clear that you will never clamp down on those who fess up to a mistake but that you will come down like a ton of bricks on those who attempt to cover things up
  3. Make it clear you expect people to make mistakes and that things will go wrong but that your personal value and attitude is to treat these as an opportunity for learning rather than blaming. Also, emphasise the positive angle on reviews i.e. identifying best practices and learning from what went well
  4. Make sure everybody understands that “It’s ok to admit you don’t know or don’t understand but that it’s not ok to pretend you do”
  5. Make it clear that you expect brutal honesty
  6. Assign ownership of team meetings and when and how reviews will be conducted, you can plan this as a regular feature and unplanned, ad –hoc e.g. after a major event. Also, make sure leadership /facilitation of reviews rotates
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog! If you have any questions feel free to contact us.


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Gerry De Vries

Written by Gerry De Vries

Since leaving the Marines in the early 90s and taking his MBA at London Business School, Gerry has become a specialist in turning businesses around. His particular expertise lies in improving performance through effective leadership and culture change. He has played a leading role, as Management Team member, Interim Manager and Consultant, in a number of strategic turnarounds and optimisation projects, across different industries. He has led over 35 teams globally and worked with leaders at all levels including Executive and Ministerial.

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