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The dangers of self-reporting and the echo chamber

I’ve noticed a curious dichotomy when it comes to psychometric and behavioural testing. On the one hand, there’s some considerable scepticism in industry regarding the usefulness of such testing; and on the other, a widespread readiness to accept the newest test on the market without due diligence – without asking:

  • What does the test claim to measure? (Some widely-used tests conflate behaviour and personality, for example.)

  • Where’s the research? What kind of theoretical basis is there? Do our organisational values support this kind of theory, and where are the findings to support the hypotheses?

  • What’s our reason for conducting testing in the first place? What do we hope to achieve, and how well does a given test support our needs in this regard?

And when you don’t know the ‘why’, you don’t know what kind of outcome you’re seeking.

Self-reporting: not the ‘safe option’

Because people can be wary of ‘psychometric’ tests, lots of companies use self-reporting. People can’t disagree if the results come from their own inputs, right? But using self-reporting isn’t the ‘safe option’ – the end result is damaging.

The report reflects the individual back at themselves through their own distorted lens. Opportunities for learning and growth are limited by the individual’s self-awareness. The test becomes a tick-box exercise and employees don’t buy in to the process. Meanwhile, all the issues bubbling away under the surface are never addressed, because each person in the team just carries on in their own echo chamber.

Here’s Meredith Belbin saying just this, back in 1993:

“These tests and inventories rely on self-reporting. Most participants respond favourably to the outputs they receive, declaring them to be true, a comment that can scarcely be surprising since it is their own inputs that have been processed and fed back to them. Self-awareness and knowledge are at risk, then, of becoming a closed system into which the perceptions of the external world fail to break. Yet the practice of industry means that when decisions have to be reached about people, in terms of promotion or transfer to other work or, indeed, on any matter of importance, it is the perception of others that forms the basis of decision-making.”

– Meredith Belbin, Team Roles at Work, 1993

Interrelate, aggregate, analyse

For real change with real-world outcomes, you need results to interact. Rather than identifying personality traits which categorise individuals, you need feedback within teams and across hierarchical levels in the organisation, to open up the discussions that get people thinking and promote change.

Behaviour is external, observable and grounded in real-world examples. Measuring behaviour is how you add value. It’s key to transforming individual development and helping people work more effectively together.

Set at a distance from innate personality traits which feel ‘too close to home’, analysing behaviour as observed by others offers you a practical, democratic, evidence-based measurement which shows an individual their impact upon a team, without letting things ‘get personal’.

Here, you can tell the individual, is the impression they’re creating. Here are the strengths others see – did they know? Here is what could be holding them back from promotion or recognition, and here’s how to handle it. Here are some reasons why they find it easier to get along with one person, but work more productively with another. Here is where the team’s culture is taking it and why.

Can you afford for your people to miss out on that kind of insight?

At Belbin, we believe that measuring behaviour is crucial and that feedback from others is needed to take that behavioural ‘pulse’. That’s why we offer Observer Assessments – short surveys for colleagues and managers to complete, based on the behaviours they witness every day. These inform and enrich an individual’s own ‘view’ and that’s why we don’t charge separately from them– they’re an integral part of the Belbin process.

What’s your experience? Have you worked with organizations who decide the ‘what’ before the ‘why’ when it comes to personality or behavioural testing? How have you worked around that to discover what they need?

Have you found value in using Observer Assessments with Belbin? Let us know!

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