Face-to-Face Employee Performance Evaluations in a Team Setting – Is It a Too Risky Process?

Historically, the first employee evaluations started at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time employees were evaluated by their supervisors, and evaluations mostly focused on the level of employee output. Around 1950’s, as businesses and organizations streamlined their structures to become more competitive, the number of the reporting employees to each supervisor increased. As a consequence, it became more challenging for supervisors to observe each report. This organizational trend introduced peer evaluation and feedback as a relevant employee development and administrative strategy. Later, around 1980’s the multirater evaluations by supervisors, peers, subordinates and customers gained the popularity. The multirater evaluation is referred to as “360 degree evaluation”, “multisource evaluation”, “270 degree evaluation”, “full-circle appraisal”, or “stakeholder appraisal”. Another form of multirater evaluation, namely the evaluation conducted by peers face-to-face in a team setting, was introduced to organizations along with the popularity of self-managing teams. Differently than usual 360 degree evaluation conducted in an anonymous and confidential manner, the team based employee evaluation is carried out in a face-to-face setting with all team members being present at the same time.
Wellins, Byham, and Wilson, (1991) determined that 37% of organizations that implement self-empowered teams also utilize teams for employee evaluations. Thus, what are the advantages and what considerations should be taken when applying such form of employee evaluation in an organization or business?

First, let’s look at the pros.
– The team based employee evaluation is effective in increasing employee performance. Teams with face-to-face employee evaluations display higher levels of performance (Muniute-Cobb & Alfred, 2010), cooperation, and member satisfaction (Erez et al, 2002).
– Team based employee evaluation keeps employees accountable not only to supervisors, but also to peers (Muniute-Cobb & Alfred, 2010).
– This form of employee evaluation facilitates organizational culture of openness and ownership.
– By participating in an evaluation of their peers, and listening to feedback about their strengths and challenges, employees also get an opportunity to reflect on their own strengths and challenges and learn about what’s expected in an organization (Garner, 1988).
– Because face-to-face team evaluation requires more vulnerability and openness by an employee, in return it also facilitates greater professional growth and development.

On the other hand:
– Face-to-face employee evaluation may fail if not supported by an organizational culture. Such evaluation requires leadership support and organizational culture where openness and communication are highly promoted.
– Teams would need to be ”molded” and developed before introducing such type of employee evaluation. A level of cohesiveness and trust need to be reached between team members so that everyone feels safe in providing and receiving critical feedback, which may be both positive and negative.
– Employees need to be trained on evaluation process, the expectations, and the effective ways of delivering feedback on employee’s areas of development. For instance, instead of saying “you have a problem with tardiness”, one can provide a descriptive feedback saying “I noticed that several times you were late coming to a team meeting”
– Team based employee evaluation works best with incorporating a “one-on-one” component. Namely, before a scheduled evaluation in a team, a member who is being evaluated meets with all other members individually. During this one-one-one meeting a team member shares his or her perceptions on evaluated employees strengths and challenges. That way, any perceptions between the two members can be clarified before the team meeting and there are no surprises in feedback that is delivered with others being present (Muniute-Cobb & Alfred, 2010). This component also minimizes a potential conflict in a team caused by a surprising negative feedback from a peer employee.

Thus, face-to-face employee evaluation can be an effective way in improving employee performance, increasing accountability, and facilitating employee’s professional development. However some considerations should be taken before such form of employee evaluation is applied. First, a culture of open communication should be cultivated in an organization. Also, teams would need to reach a level of cohesiveness where employees are safe providing each other with positive and negative feedback. Employees would benefit from training about the process and expectations regarding such evaluation. Finally, this form of employee evaluation works best with incorporating “one-on-one” component before delivering feedback in an open team setting.

Erez, A., Lepine, J. A., & Elms, H. (2002). Effects of rotated leadership and peer evaluation on the functioning and effectiveness of self-managed teams: a quasi experiment. Personnel Psychology, 55(4), 929-949.

Garner, H. G. (1988). Helping others through teamwork: A handbook for professionals. Washington, DC: Child welfare League of America, Inc.

Muniute-Cobb, E. & Alfred, V. M. (2010). Learning from evaluation by peer team: a case study of a family counseling organization. International Journal of Training and Development, 14(2), 95-111.

Wellins, R. S., Byham, W. C., & Wilson, J. M. (1991). Empowered teams: Creating self-directed work groups that improve quality, productivity and participation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.