The Johari Window – Developing Your People Leader Toolkit

By People Leaders | People Leaders Podcast

The Johari Window - Developing Your People Leader Toolkit

As a people leader it’s useful to have a strong toolkit of good frameworks; shortcuts for certain ways of operating. We get a lot of feedback from people about the resources we share and how helpful they are, so we’re sharing a new one with you: the Johari Window. 

What is the Johari Window?

Put simply, the Johari Window is a diagram that can be used as a shortcut for understanding team dynamics. Developed by two American psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, it offers a process for recognising certain developed group dynamics. 

They developed the Johari Window - so called to represent both Joseph and Harry - when researching what it takes to gain a better understanding of communication in a group setting at the University of California. 

The four quadrants of the Johari Window

It’s a simple resource to use. There are four quadrants, each focusing on different areas of personality: Open Area, Blind Spot, Hidden Area and Unknown.

Johari Window

Quadrant One - The Open Area

This quadrant focuses on what you know about yourself that is also known by others in your group or team. It’s called the ‘open area because, in a highly-functioning team, you should try to be open and to broaden and expand this area. 

One way that we have used it in leadership training is to invite everyone in the group to stand up and share a strength they have or how they contribute to the team. Everyone has an opportunity to share, and throughout the course of the training, we invite everyone to stand up and repeat their strength or contribution. Interestingly, some people forget what strengths they see in themselves. When you are fully present, you will definitely be able to remember that because, as a team, you want to be able to leverage those strengths. 

We then ask a few members of the team to share what strengths they see in a specific person, or how they see that person contribute their strengths to the team. We love that, because what you're doing is, 1) acknowledging the strength that you have, and 2) the other team members are validating that, which is wonderful. Which leads us onto the next quadrant...

Quadrant Two - The Blind Spot

As the name suggests, this quadrant is what you don’t know about yourself but perhaps others in your team know about you. Herein lies the beauty of being open to receiving feedback and giving permission for people to give you feedback. 

We might focus on what strengths others see in you that you don’t notice or acknowledge. This offers your team a real opportunity to trust each other and grow and develop together. Having said that, it does take a mature team that is open and willing to grow and learn, to be able to step into that developmental area.

A good way to open up the discussion is to start by focussing on sharing the strengths each person notices in their fellow team members. This paves the way to feedback. For example, if a team member was to talk about an example of support that really impacted them that you had forgotten about, you share constructive and developmental feedback. 

It’s also a really great opportunity for managers to learn what others think of them. Do you really know the impact you're having on stakeholders and colleagues beyond this team? 

The important thing to remember is that a ‘blind spot’ isn’t necessarily a negative. 

Quadrant Three - The Hidden Area

This section refers to what others don’t know about you. A great way to start is to ask the question: What am I working on at the moment? Or, what am I challenged by? 

We saw a great example of how well this can work when we were working with a team where someone talked about their need for approval. They were always asking questions; despite being an expert in their field, they were always second guessing themselves. It gave them the opportunity to say, “This is what I think, what’s your input? Is there a way we can develop that even further?” So, by opening up and telling others what they were challenged by, they were able to go from approval seeking to achievement seeking. 

Other people might be challenged by being asked direct questions in a meeting without having the time to think about it. Either way, by knowing these things about your team, you are better able to set people up for success. 

Quadrant Four - The Unknown

This quadrant refers to what is unknown by the person about themselves and is also unknown by others. What we love about this area is it’s all about potential that hasn't been tried or tested. It could be things that you have a talent for or innate ability that hasn't been given the opportunity to come to the fore. Or, maybe the team’s resilience hasn't been tested yet, or their ability to take on different sorts of projects, for example. 

So, start with yourself here. Ask, what did I learn about myself? Is there a common theme that keeps coming up that I wasn’t aware of? Then ask, what did we learn about our team? What did we learn about either the makeup of the team or the dynamics of the team as a result of going through this process? 

When we use the Johari Window, we often think, is there another way to make this area more practical? We think it’s through scenario planning. By potentially planning for what’s coming down the track, you could develop a plan - that’s one way to test this ‘unknown area’. 

For example, you could look at team agreements and how you agree to behave with one another. So, say you agree to talk directly and to eliminate separate, side conversations. That’s phase one. Phase two of your scenario planning would be to look at how you would enforce that. How will you bring people back on track? How will you hold each other to account? That's when you can bring those scenarios into play and ‘test’ the unknown. 

Develop your skills with the Johari Window

So, each quadrant has its own very specific area to focus on. Quadrant one is the open area - this is all about contribution. Quadrant two is the blind spot and is all about acknowledgement and feedback. Quadrant three is the hidden area, which is really about the statement of intent in terms of what you’re working on or challenged by. And quadrant four is the unknown, which focuses on the potential. 

We encourage you to download the resource and give it a go. If you’re a team leader, start small with just the first quadrant and ask yourself the questions, then do it as if you were in a team environment so you can familiarise yourself with the process. From there you can share the template with your team in a meeting and see if they’re open to trying it. 

It’s best to carve out 15 minutes and work through the first quadrant together. That way you can build them up to it and present the opportunity for skill development. Not only are you learning a new resource, but you’re building the capability of your team members to be able to articulate their contribution in a way that’s clear and concise. And that's what we need more of. 

The other way that you can use it is not just with your team, but also with your leadership team. So you might have the team that you manage and then your senior leadership team across the board. So, it’s got two layers to it and both are extremely effective ways of developing your skills as a people leader. 

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