A Lack of Self Awareness is Killing Your Team’s Performance

Most organizations have done some type of training on emotional intelligence.  What most don’t realize though is that a particular component of EQ – Self-Awareness, may be the most important component of EQ.  More importantly, recent research shows that a lack of accurate self-awareness can have a direct, negative impact on team performance.

This concept was discussed in a recent article in Harvard Business Review, , by Dierdorff and Rubin. 

 Emotional intelligence is often referred to as a “meta-construct”.  In other words, there are several behavioral components that contribute to whether you have high or low EQ.  It’s important to understand these because without that understanding, it’s nearly impossible to improve your EQ skills.  The underlying competencies include communication, empathy, motivation, social and self-awareness (you’ll see slightly different lists, but they are all similar.).  If you score low in social awareness, then talking about empathy or communication skills is not going to improve your performance.

“Teams with less self-aware individuals made worse decisions, engaged in less coordination, and showed less conflict management.”

The HBR article focuses on self-awareness. It could be argued that it is the most important component of the five.  From the article:

  • Self-awareness is understanding who we are and how we are similar to or different from others.
  • It’s critical, though, to understand how our own view of our traits and abilities, compares with the perception of others. 
  • Commonly used personality tests may be of limited value because they focus on self-perception, without taking into account how you are viewed by peers, colleagues and supervisors.
  • “Self-knowledge assessments may reinforce inaccurate perceptions of ourselves. For teams to perform effectively, each member must possess a combination of technical and interpersonal skills and constantly adjust their contributions to meet the team’s needs. Correctly understanding one’s capabilities relative to others is therefore paramount.”
  • The authors examined 58 teams and more than 300 leaders.  They compared self-assessment results with the perception of others, and with important business metrics.

Most revealing:

  • When there was a large gap between someone’s assessment of their own behavior, and the assessment of the same by team members, team performance suffered substantially
  • “Teams with less self-aware individuals made worse decisions, engaged in less coordination, and showed less conflict management.”
  • “The most damaging situation occurred when teams were comprised of significant over-raters (i.e., individuals who thought they were contributing more than their team members thought they were).”

What can we take away from this?

  • The intersection between personality and performance is a bit more complex than some commonly used personality tests might try to indicate.
  • To really understand and improve performance, I like to take a three-pronged approach:
    • Personality
    • Perception
    • Performance
  1. Take advantage of a proven, validated and easy to use personality test to understand personality “traits” – those underlying propensities that influence behavior.  (I’m not a fan “type” assessments like the Disc or MBTI – I find the data to be less practically useful.)
  2. But also, get “perception” data through feedback of peers, colleagues, subordinates and direct reports.  It’s one thing for a physician to self report that he is highly socially aware – i.e. able to read others and adjust his behavior, accordingly.  It’s another to find out from those who work around him that is simply not perceived as being socially aware.
  3. Finally, tie all of this to performance data.  Again, someone may self-report that they are highly collaborative, but if their teams, over and over again, fail to deliver, you’ve got to question that self-report data because there is a lack of self-awareness.  Similarly, I tend to score low on personality tests on the trait of “attention to detail” – but some of the work I do requires higher attention to detail.  I can accomplish this work but only with extra effort and because I’m aware of this trait.  It would not make sense for me to spend my developmental time on improving attention to detail.  My efforts should be focused elsewhere because it is not negatively impacting my performance.

A Practical Approach

There is a growing awareness that behavioral skills like business acumen, emotional intelligence, communication, empathy and collaboration are critical to individual physician and provider success.  These skills impact the patient experience, the effectiveness of multi-disciplinary teams, and even individual career success.  Too often, though, organizations try to develop training in these areas that is either ineffective or poorly received.

Part of the problem is believing there is a simple, silver bullet tool that will improve the situation.  You can’t give someone their Disc profile or MBTI results and expect that the data will improve a physician’s performance.  A physician once told that he took an EQ test and it basically told him he was low in EQ – “What do I do with that information?” he asked.

What he needed was more insight into what component of EQ was lacking, how this data compares to how he is perceived, and links to performance data – how patients rate his communication skills, outcomes, etc.

This latter metric becomes more important, for instance as we ask primary care physicians to encourage wellness and prevent, rather than just treat, disease.  These efforts aren’t about diagnoses and treat but about communication – and effective communication starts with self-awareness.

Physicians and other professionals need talent management.  They need a structured methodology to improve their performance.  That methodology, though, needs to be well thought-out, practical, and geared to their unique challenges.  At J3Personica, we’ve built our entire suite of tools and approaches around enhancing self-awareness as the foundation for improved performance and our research continues to support the effectiveness of this work.