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Self-Aware Teams: Leader Self-Awareness Affects More Than Just the Leader

Teams and organizations are comprised of multiple individuals, both leaders and followers, all of whom must contribute to the collective’s success. Self-deceptive team members are less adaptive in an organized environment than self-aware members because they cannot see the underlying truth behind their actions. Self-deceptive members who cannot change to meet the challenges their organization faces undermine the critical thinking needed to affect organizational development and adjustments.[1] It is vital that organizations develop not only self-aware leaders but self-aware teams as well.


The elements of self-awareness work together to help the individual understand how their honest perception of themselves as a team member contributes to the greater team. A self-aware person is cognizant of their intended objectives. They understand their feelings and responses to situations that arise. Within those situations, the needs of others are more apparent to them. Self-aware team members are then more able to regulate their response to these situations and to the actions of others to more appropriately achieve their desired results.[2]


The Composition of a Self-Aware Team

Self-aware team members serve their team better than do self-deceptive members. Seems obvious. Specifically, deception and self-deception in a team setting create unstable groups over longer periods of time. Lying does not work well in small-group settings. Self-deceptive lying works even less, as it places the practitioner at a greater disadvantage to their peers.[3]


Erich Dierdorff, David Fisher, and Robert Rubin wrote an article in the Journal of Management titled “The Power of Percipience: Consequences of Self-Awareness in Teams on Team-Level Functioning and Performance.” They studied the integration of team functioning and self-awareness in members and the connections with team effectiveness. They prescribed that teams comprised of self-deceptive members who are less insightful about their individual-level contributions show a decrease in team-level functioning. These team members coordinate with others less, show little team cohesion, and are involved in more inter-team conflict. Teams with individuals who exhibit high-levels of self-awareness, on the other hand, function better as a team.[4] These teams are more effective and more adaptive.


Dierdorff and his colleagues argued that teams with self-aware individuals show greater team-level functioning and performance than teams with a collection of less introspective members. They explained that the unique individual contributions of team members can be influential above and beyond their individual inputs when they are self-aware. This notion becomes more important when the organization is diagnosing a team’s effectiveness. The aggregate level of individual team member self-awareness affects team-level coordination. Team members must engage in mutual adjustments to synchronize all of their individual contributors up to the team level.[5]


Self-Aware Team Members Avoid Groupthink

A danger to teams while engaged in their decision-making processes that can be avoided with self-aware leaders and members is groupthink. Groupthink is a method that enables team members to wholeheartedly agree with the consensus of the group by allowing individual members to set aside their doubts about a decision or the process used to reach that decision.[6] The danger is that the decision may have been reached by members with a desire to satisfy the group, not solve the problem. Teams under stress may become too narrowly focused on the specifics that make up the threat and may neglect to focus on defending themselves rather than making quality decisions.[7]


There are deliberate exercises teams can use to mitigate the pressures on a team that hinder the team decision-making process. Anthony Pratkanis of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Marlene Turner of San Jose State University identified ways to mitigate groupthink pressures. One such technique is the second solution technique, where group members are asked to identify a second solution to the decision if their first option was unavailable. Another is the developmental discussion technique. This technique uses logical steps given to team members to help them structure their thinking in a more methodical way.[8]


Organizational Benefits from Self-Aware Teams

Self-aware leaders are empowering of others, resulting in a more enabled collective. As leaders work toward self-awareness, they unlock their potential. Those with whom they work in turn strive for greater self-efficacy, and the whole organization rises toward excellence.[9] Self-aware leaders are more capable and effective,[10] and they want a more capable, effective workforce. If the leader can bring their followers along to this way of thinking and operating, then the resultant shared identity of openness and commitment to excellence, which are contingent on each other, will benefit the organization.[11]


It may be a challenge for the leader to make the connection between their self-awareness and that of the workforce. If the leader is not in tune with their abilities and limitations in dealing with people, they may have a difficult time calibrating and aligning their contributions with those of their followers.[12] If they can make this alignment, the result will be a more loyal following that shares the leader’s and the organization’s values.[13] In an interview I conducted with a senior executive for the federal government involved in executive resources and talent management, this executive explained that an indicator of success in a strategic leader is their ability to bring in other opinions. Leaders who welcome a diverse range of thoughts and multiple viewpoints is an indication of a confident, self-aware leader.[14]


John Sosik, a researcher on charismatic leadership, suggested that self-awareness on the part of both the leader and their followers can be a substitute control mechanism. This mutual commitment to loyalty and openness can supplement traditional control systems like micro-management and standard operating procedures to increase leader effectiveness.[15] He went on to explain that charismatic leaders’ ratings were supported by increased performance and a greater sense of trust from direct reports.[16] When a trusted leader connects with their team, they may not need traditional control mechanisms as much.


Extra-Organizational Benefits of Self-Awareness

Achieving self-awareness and shedding self-deceptive tendencies in a leader does more than just benefit the organization. Empathy, self-mastery, and social skills are essential human qualities for success in life. These traits help a person flourish in personal and work relationships alike.[17] Transparency and mutual understanding help maintain social and work relationships, not deceit and obfuscation.[18]


The majority of this research is about an individual’s efforts to achieve self-awareness and avoid self-deception. The reader can see how this translates to teams. Like an individual leader, a team comprised of self-deceptive members will not function with the efficiency needed in fast-paced, complex operating environments.


Observations

  • self-deceptive team members undermine the critical thinking needed by a team to affect organizational outputs

  • liars in a small group are at a disadvantage to their honest peers

  • teams comprised of self-aware individuals show greater team-level functioning and performance and are better able to avoid groupthink

[1] Kuntz and Dehlin (2019) [2] Goleman et al. (2002) [3] Von Hippel and Trivers (2011) [4] Dierdorff et al. (2019) [5] Dierdorff et al. (2019) [6] Janis (1986) [7] Pratkanis & Turner (2013) [8] Pratkanis & Turner (2013) [9] Caldwell and Hayes (2016) [10] Hinkle (2018) [11] Taylor (2010) [12] Dierdorff et al. (2019) [13] Kouzes and Posner (2012) [14] Federal Government Senior Executive, in discussion with the author (February 2021) [15] Sosik (2001) [16] Sosik (2001) [17] Hinkle (2018) [18] Von Hippel and Trivers (2011)

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