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Leadership

The power of self-awareness: How to build successful teams

Self-awareness has become a management buzzword — let’s hope for the right reasons.

Self-awareness is not something new. Throughout history, the most successful leaders have always been obsessed with knowing themselves. Self-awareness is having an accurate view of one’s skills, abilities, and shortcomings.

Sun Tzu said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Let me show you why self-awareness dramatically affects how your team collaborates, communicates, and performs. And how your organization can benefit from it.

The case for self-awareness

“Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.” ― Ramana Maharshi

Research by Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, shows that self-awareness is the meta-skill of the 21st century — self-aware people are more successful, more confident, build better relationships, and are more effective leaders.

Eurich spent several years studying how self-awareness impacts organizational behavior.

The most prominent problem organizations face is not knowing what they don’t know. Blind spots, assumptions, and over-confidence hinder the performance of both individuals and teams.

Self-awareness is much more than a personality assessment — it’s learning to observe yourself through others people’s eyes and yours too. It requires developing a mindful mentality to avoid being the prey of overconfidence and ignorance.

The more people become aware of their mindsets and behaviors, the more they can avoid harmful habits such as dominating conversations, not paying attention to others, being arrogant or trying to impose their points of view.

According to research by The Potential Project, self-awareness has a more positive impact on leadership than an MBA. The study evaluated more than 1,000 leaders in more than 800 companies across the world. The findings show that self-awareness encourages us to lead ourselves with authenticity and integrity — and in turn better lead others.

Another study by the College of Business at DePaul University directly links self-awareness with team performance. Teams with high self-awareness make better decisions, interact better with each other, and manage tensions and conflicts more effectively.

Self-awareness clearly increases performance. Interesting to note, organizations are not as self-aware as they believe they are, the study shows. The good news? Organizations can dramatically benefit from it if they start taking it seriously.

Fortunately, self-awareness can be nurtured. Seven ways to develop self-aware teams:

“No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.” ― Pythagoras

1. Being present increases productivity

Distraction is our worst enemy. Having focus is a scarce currency — the cost of “not paying attention” is costing organizations $588 billion per annum in the U.S. alone. People attend meetings or video conferences, but their minds are somewhere else.

Being present is the better gift you can give to your productivity.

Promoting self-awareness removes distractions — it helps people stay focused. Checking-in people’s mindset before a meeting creates both individual and collective awareness. Letting everyone share “What has got your attention?” is a useful practice to focus on being present.

2. Move from blind spots to bright spots

What you don’t know can get you into trouble. What you don’t know you don’t know, blinds you. Knowledge, Beliefs, Thoughts, and Emotional Blindness are the four common types of blind spots — that’s why teams make wrong decisions. Inaccurate assessments or members that over-rate their contributions, damage performance and collaboration.

Self-awareness can turn blind posts into bright spots.

Our blind spots lie at the intersection of how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. Self-awareness is not just a personal journey —it requires feedback from others to see what you are missing. The Johari Window is an effective tool that I facilitate with teams to help them uncover their “unknown unknowns.” Check out this exercise to get you started.

3. Nurture a culture of clarity and transparency

(Mis) Communication is the main reason behind most team tensions. The inability to discuss things openly — people see conflict as hindering, rather than enabling, growth. The more people know their team members, the better they can interact among each other.

Self-aware teams are more self-resilient, self-confident and more adaptive — they share a common purpose.

Clarity doesn’t just help current members collaborate; self-aware teams make the immersion of newcomers much easier. Open dialogue and candid feedback require a safe space. Psychological Safety is necessary for people to speak up without the fear of being ignored, criticized, or punished.

4. Turn awareness into a team practice

Having the entire team play by the same rules, levels the playing field. If some members have high self-awareness and others are clueless, the team will still suffer.

Self-awareness is a collective journey — the whole team experiences the transformation together.

Encourage your team to engage in self-awareness rituals every day. Promote ongoing feedback, not just annual 360 reviews. Feedback is a gift for your organization — it’s necessary fuel for continuous improvement. Assigning Accountability Partners is a simple practice we facilitate to turn everyone into a mirror; they can reflect what others are missing. Learn more about how you can implement this method — turn every team member into a coach.

5. Self-aware people don’t fight reality — they adapt and thrive

Adaptability is a critical advantage to thrive in a fast-paced and unexpected world. The problem is that most people resist reality — they fight what they don’t know, what makes them feel uncomfortable or what they can’t understand.

Self-awareness encourages curiosity — rather than resisting change, people pay attention and ask questions.

Accepting reality is not passive — it doesn’t mean giving up either. Teams have to have an objective and unfiltered assessment of reality (Acknowledge), so they can understand why things are happening (Learn), and adjust their mindsets, strategies, and behaviors (Adapt). Read more about how to develop a Learning Mind — help your team embrace the unknown, instead of resisting it.

6. Go deep, but mind the gap

Self-awareness is not an X-ray image of who you are. I see many organizations that believe that developmental assessment tools (DiSC, The Core Values Index, etc.) provide self-awareness. Uncovering biases and blind spots — same as becoming more aware of how our mindsets and emotions get in the way — requires going deep.

Self-awareness is an ongoing journey of self-discovery, not a static assessment.

Self-awareness is about reconnecting with the multiple layers of one’s identity. Coaching self-awareness is a sensitive task — it requires applying mindfulness, introspection, neuroscience methods among others. However, too much introspection can kill people, as I explained here. It’s essential that everyone leaves the room in a great mood. That’s why we incorporate games, improv, and other tricks and team activities to balance the spirit.

Self-awareness is something serious, but it should be treated too seriously 🙂 You want people to benefit from knowing themselves better, not to run away from it.

7. Encourage self-development, not just awareness

Team development is an ongoing practice, not just a one-off. The same way that developmental assessment tools only provide a snapshot, holding a self-awareness workshop won’t change much. We normally experience a dramatic transformation in just a few hours of coaching teams. However, building a practice requires consistency and time.

Self-development is an ongoing practice — it’s a habit that takes a lifetime to master it.

Whatever plans you have to increase your team’s self-awareness, follow-up is critical. Artists and athletes practice most of the time, and then play; in business is the other way around. Developing self-awareness requires preparation — set aside ‘practice time.’ Most importantly, you don’t need to have a consultant like me continually involved. Equip your team with tools and methods that they can implement (and adapt) on their own.

— — —

Long-lasting change happens from within.

Prepare your team by showing them the benefits of self-awareness. Involve your people from the start — self-awareness can’t be imposed, they need to own it. Making ‘self-awareness’ a company priority is not enough — develop the right conditions.

Provide a safe space, proper tools, and coaching. Keep it simple. Start small.

Self-awareness doesn’t happen overnight — it’s a lifetime journey. It’s time to take the first step.

Increase your team self-awareness

Download my ebook “Stretch Your Team — how to thrive in a changing world”: get your free copy.

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This article first appeared on Medium.

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Gustavo Razzetti is the CEO of Liberationist, a change leadership consultancy that helps organizations become more innovative. His human-centered approach liberates the within every team. Razzetti has over 20 years of experience transforming people’s behavior at the intersection of Neuroscience, Design Thinking, Mindfulness, and Creativity. Razzetti is the author of "Stretch for Change," "Stretch Your Mind," and "Stretch Your Team.” He is also a regular speaker and has facilitated hundreds of change workshops in the US, Europe, and Latin America.