Business simulation study reveals the need for self-awareness

Post by Capsim
March 27, 2015

A recent study by Erich C. Dierdorff* and Robert S. Rubin, two associate professors of management in the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University and co-directors of, revealed that self-awareness in the workplace significantly increases the probability of success. The research, published in the Harvard Business Review, examines the necessity of self-awareness in professional team settings and reveals common misconceptions about this ability. Specifically, the duo’s research highlights that a person’s self-awareness of their own skills and values often differs from how they actually perform.

Research and findings 

“Dierdorff found 50% of students rank themselves in the top 20%.”

When speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Dierdorff explained that he sees a tendency in his students to overrate themselves. The professor utilizes business simulation software, giving his students an opportunity to assess their managerial skills. However, before the students begin, Dierdorff has students rate their personal abilities. He found that about 50 percent of students rank themselves in the top 20 percent, suggesting that at the very least 30 percent of his students have an unrealistic assessment of their skills.

Yet Dierdorff and Rubin’s research extends well beyond academia. The professors collected data from more than 300 leaders spread across 58 teams at at Fortune 10 company. The teams performed a business simulation, and the duo assessed how self-awareness related to team effectiveness, team coordination and conflict management. To quantify self-awareness, each leader provided assessments of both themselves and other team members.

The findings revealed a large gap in the probability of success between groups with low and high self-awareness. In regard to decision quality, coordination and conflict management, teams with poor self-awareness had a 32, 27 and 35 percent probability of success, respectively. For teams with high self-awareness, the probability of success in each category was 68, 73 and 65 percent. This illustrates more than doubled probability in both the fields of decision quality and coordination, as well as a 30 percent better success rate of conflict management.

The authors explain, “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 evidence certainly supports this statement. Perhaps, most importantly, this research illuminates the point that a worker’s individual self-awareness can affect an entire team and therefore may have larger consequences in an organization.


While these findings may be a point of alarm for executives and managers, Dierdorff and Rubin do offer three practical strategies for increasing the accuracy of self-awareness in the workplace:

  • Demonstrate the link between self-awareness and personal job success: An employee who is accurately self-aware is more likely to see areas in which he or she needs to improve. When workers see that professional development can lead to advancing their careers, then they’re more likely to honestly assess their personal skills and take measures to fill in the gaps.
  • Use self-awareness tools that highlight job performance: The authors explain that many well-known developmental assessments don’t link results to job performance and thereby don’t provide strong real-world implications. Dierdorff and Rubin recommend making sure any tools implemented should deliver results that can show value.
  • Teach self-development skills as well: Self-awareness has limited value if employees are not given the tools to improve themselves. If self-awareness allows a worker to understand his or her shortcomings, self-development allows the worker to take action to strengthen these areas.

All of us have some understanding of self-awareness, but regardless of personal accuracy, there will always be a disconnect between how we view ourselves professionally and how we are seen by others. This research showcases that the best means of limiting this disparity is to consciously improve professional skills using tools that evaluate performance.

*Dierdorff is a consultant for Capsim.

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