4 Fundamentals of Peer Appraisal

peer appraisal

Teams that work well are composed of team members who have learned to work well together. Enter peer appraisal, a type of feedback provided to fellow coworkers by the people who work most closely with them—their peers—in order to identify the most effective ways to work together.

What Is Peer Appraisal?

If it sounds simple, well, in many ways it is. Peer appraisal is not much different than any other type of feedback you could gather in an organization. It’s just like any other feedback survey you could administer, only this time, you’re asking coworkers to review one another. Because honest feedback can be hard to deliver (and hard to receive!), it must be an integrated and intentional part of team dynamics.

Why Is Peer Appraisal Important?

Research and experience show that accurate feedback can significantly impact personal development and interpersonal collaboration. So, what makes feedback accurate? For starters, it should consider a variety of viewpoints. The more viewpoints included in a feedback process—bosses, supervisors, direct reports, peers, even customers—the more comprehensive that feedback process will be. What’s more, an argument could be made that peers provide the most accurate viewpoint in a feedback process. After all, they are the ones spending the most time with the person being reviewed.

How Do You Identify Peers for Peer Appraisal?

Depending on the structure and size of your organization, it can be tricky to identify the right recipients of a peer appraisal survey. In some settings, it will be obvious. The product development team has two managers and five members. Those five members are peers. In other settings, particularly small organizations where individuals wear many hats, it can be harder to pinpoint.

Whether or not it’s obvious, we recommend starting with a pair of simple questions to make sure you’ve identified the right people: Ask the person you’re reviewing to list the people they work most frequently with and then ask their manager the same question. Look for people who overlap—those are the peers.

Are There Peer Appraisal Pitfalls to Avoid?

Like with any type of feedback you’re collecting, there are best practices for peer appraisal. All the typical performance review best practices apply, but there are some special considerations when it comes to coworkers reviewing each other.

Consider this conundrum: On a team of five product developers, two are particularly close—in age, but also in friendship. It’s human nature to rate a friend higher than you might another coworker. Or consider this: A team of five product developers just finished a massive project. They’re proud of the work they did, but they’re also a little over it and over with each other. Hand them a survey now and their burnout might unfairly creep into the survey results.

When it comes to peer appraisal, survey design—balancing objective measures with subjective ones, i.e., quantitative questions with open-ended ones—is paramount to ensuring you get accurate feedback. Make sure you communicate expectations clearly. Timing also is critical. It’s not always possible but try to schedule your survey when respondents have the time and space to provide thoughtful, honest feedback. Introduce an after-action review when the immediate dust has settled on a project but don’t wait until it’s too far in the rear-view mirror for people to make an accurate assessment.

It’s worth getting all of this right, because accurate feedback gathered from peer appraisals can raise self-awareness, identify areas that need to be strengthened, and can begin a process of personal growth and learning.