Team reviews are fundamentally flawed

A basic explanation of what team reviews are is that everyone is allowed to render a verdict on either your character or technical skills, sometimes both. This concept is fundamentally flawed and does not take into account human nature and it’s naive on factors that might invoke an unfavourable review

Allow me to explain what I mean here and at-least try to offer a more viable and fair alternative

The fundamental flaws

I've divided the fundamental flaws into three categories that I feel encapsulate the issue perfectly. If you don’t feel there are fundamental flaws in teams reviews, let me know why in the comments section below

Feeling they are engaged in a zero-sum game

If people on the team are under the impression that if someone else wins, they lose, then they may feel threatened and will attempt to eject the person from the team by giving them an unfair or negative review

The impression they are under is demonstrably false and is simply not how the system works. Both people can win but often they will not be aware of this concept

Receiving a negative review under this context is really unfair and does not serve the company any good

Tribalism and the “Us vs. Them” dynamic

Tribalism has its roots in evolutionary biology and it can be seen at the source of many issues in the world today, including team reviews in industry

You may have demonstrated yourself to be smarter than those on the team or you may bring more value to the company than what they do. It may also simply be that you feel differently about how problems should be solved. These two concepts will create a division between yourself and them and it creates the concept of “Us vs. Them”

An Us vs Them dynamic in something like DevOps engineering can be described in the following:



These are just four examples of this dynamic but it presents the issue of tribalism in an easily parsable way

Issues of tribalism are easily avoidable when the team is small (you can simply hire similar type people) but tribalism can become a problem when the team increases in size or if two companies merge. If you do hire the same type of people, a cult could start to form and I’m not sure if this actually solves the problem or not. A cult may make it hard for different types of people to join the team so the problem has not been solved, it has shifted

Personality clashes and jealousy

I’m no psychologist but what I can initially tell with the above personalities (presented in the picture) is that they can gel horizontally but I can see problems arising with trying to gel either vertically or diagonally

Personalities that could potentially clash:

D and C, D and S

I and S, C and I

The personalities that clash could result in unfair reviews (again, trying to eject the person from the team)

Jealousy, the most primitive human emotion, is another factor that can play a huge role in how people interact and the worst thing about it is that there is no clear solution. If someone is jealous of you because you are smarter than them or have more going for you, this feeling will never change. Often people will attempt to argue that the issue of jealousy is childish and not how adults behave but this argument is false. Jealousy can be deeply seated in your psyche and is very prevalent in industry

This should be the final reason, maybe the most compelling reason, as to why team reviews are fundamentally flawed

What should be done instead

You should be reviewed based on what you contribute to the company and how effective you are at repeatedly doing this

Yes, communication is extremely important but communication does not need to be face-to-face or verbal. How well you perform your job should factor in how effectively you update tickets, write documentation, reply to emails, answer instant messages and you can do this even if you don’t get along with someone when in-person. Remote work can most certainly be the solution to constant unpleasant in-person interactions and is where industry is heading already

The whole concept of asking a team to review someone should be scrapped entirely. It doesn’t need to have a replacement, team reviews must not be performed and you should most certainly not rely on team reviews when you determine if the person deserves a salary increase or bonus

Depending on how big the company is, your manager should evaluate your skills and cultural fit

If the person's contribution is great but they don’t interact well with the team

This state can most certainly be worked with. They are bringing great contribution to the company and that is what they are getting paid to do

Communication is important so if they don’t interact well with the team then they’ll have to communicate in a professional manner. Answer all emails and messages. Always comment in your code. Write comprehensive documentation etc. This includes from the perspective of the team itself as well. Communication is very much a two-way channel

If the person's contribution is not great but they interact well with the team

This state can be worked with. If they have a skills issue, this can always be remedied. Because they interact well with the team, the team won’t mind teaching or being patient

If the person’s contribution is great and they interact well with the team

This is the best state the person can be in and you should consider increasing their salary and rewarding them with annual bonuses (i.e.: try to retain them as best as you can). It really does not get any better than this

If the person’s contribution is not great and they don’t interact well with the team

This is the worst state the person can be in and there is really not much hope

The hiring process won’t fix the fundamental flaw

Industry has come to the conclusion that these three statements need to be true in terms of building and retaining members on a team:

I’ve heard multiple people in positions that enable them to hire new candidates mention these exact statements, quite literally verbatim copies of what has been said before. I’m not sure if it’s written in some business literature somewhere but this proposition is found everywhere

I most certainly agree with the first two statements as well as the statement on team interaction–for the most part, but there is another fundamental flaw in the latter statement. Again, it does not factor in human nature and it’s naive on how people work

People change. People may only start to display the fundamental flaws at a later stage

The fact that all people on the team successfully made it through the hiring process does not change anything about team reviews, they should still simply not be used

Preamble at the end

This blog article is not directly relating to my career personally. I’ve always had very good reviews, it’s just that I do see a flaw in this concept