Learning from peer reviews

What are you really learning from a Peer Review?

I have spent the last few days coaching MBA teams and the individual members on interpreting results from their Peer Review Assessments, and creating action plans. Here are a few things that these teams and individuals found especially helpful:

1. Know the purpose of your team meeting

Teams meet often, and each meeting has a different purpose. Once we started parsing out what was a working session (with the goal of completing deliverables), what was a tutorial (with one expert sharing knowledge), what was a study group (with individuals working together without specific knowledge or deliverables) and what was an administrative meeting (with team members talking about how the team is functioning and dealing with other team administrative matters), then it became easier to set norms for attendance and behaviour, as well as expectations for outcomes.

2.  The over-use or under-use of a strength is a weakness

A strength is only a strength when it is used in the right way at the right place and right time. Assertiveness overplayed can look aggressive, and underplayed can look spineless. In Peer Reviews and 360 tools generally, it is possible for an individual to receive contradictory feedback. Someone thinks the individual is assertive and someone else thinks they are too aggressive. Both are right. Both are speaking to different times, different situations and, most importantly, different perspectives.

3.  Critical or harsh feedback might have no malicious intent

Sometimes, individuals receive comments that hurt. I mean, really hurt. There is a specific word that strikes at the heart – like “condescending” or “arrogant” or “dominant”. In those cases, there is a natural inclination to do two things: dismiss the criticism and malign the feedback provider (who is, of course, anonymous – so the next inclination is to try and attribute the feedback to someone…)  However, when the individual was able to reframe the intent of the feedback, determining (with coaching) that the feedback provider might have no malicious intent and just chose his/her words poorly, then it was easier to examine the feedback and look for hints of truth. This leads to greater learning and insight on the part of the recipient, and greater growth.

4. Taking in new feedback broadens you

Sometimes, when an individual reads feedback like “You are too easy-going”, a natural response might be, “But I like being easy-going – I don’t want to change…”  My response is that you don’t have to change. But you might want to expand your repetoire of skills and abilities. You will always have a natural inclination that you will resort to. Under stress, or when things are going well, your natural inclination might be to go with the flow. But when the building is burning, for example, that might not be the best response. Or when a deadline is looming. Or when someone’s performance is failing. Being a strong team member and a strong leader means developing other skills and techniques outside what you’re naturally good at. Most artists don’t work only with one or two comfortable colours. Increase your palette, and you can still maintain your favourites.

I enjoy working with MBA students and leaders as they interpret their feedback. While we think we know ourselves well, in many cases, others truly know us better. Taking in those perspectives leads to our own growth – in my books, always a good thing.

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Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

Reader Interactions


  1. Scott Asalone says

    Good condensing of some of the most important points about peer reviews. That seems to be one of the developmental focuses for “high potential employees” in corporations, especially 360 reviews. Interesting to note, even in your article, that we tend to think of feedback as negative. Most often when I work with organizations and ask the question “what is feedback?” 99 to 100% of the time I will hear words like “difficult,” “critical,” “challenging.” When I push back and suggest that feedback can be positive it is met with half-hearted acceptance at first. That is not the way most people think of feedback. Imagine if the peer review focused 90%on what the person did well. That would be an amazing review.
    Good ideas on what to focus on around the peer review. Keep up the good work.

    • LVS Consulting says

      Awesome perspective Scott – I quite agree! In this series of peer review coaching sessions, I spend quite a bit of time upfront talking about the value of feedback – how this is a positive situation for the individual, how it’s about learning and development, how this is a safe environment and a great place to practice new skills, etc. Yet, I still find that the individual is quick to slough off the “positives” and wants to dive into the “constructive” feedback about areas for improvement. The individual almost always asks something like, “So where do I need more work?”

      I would love to figure out how to balance that: to encourage the individual to spend more time on the positive and what’s working well. However, when I do that, my own evaluation scores go down – individuals feel that the conversation hasn’t been meaningful or meaty enough. (Yes, all of my sessions doing that peer review feedback coaching are evaluated and I get to see the aggregate scores and comments…) It’s a fascinating balance – how to get individuals to focus on what’s going well and build on strengths, while not ignoring areas for improvement and still having them feel that it’s all value-add. I know I’m still working on it… Always open to ideas and new things to try!

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