When I work as a Team Development Consultant to optimize a team’s performance, one of the topics people find most practical and intriguing is around managing the very different needs of extroverts and introverts.
If you had to guess which group your workplace favours, who would it be?
This comes up in about 80% of the workshops I do. I’m happy to share the Coles notes with you, and feel free to share widely because it’s one of those topics where people hear this stuff and lightbulbs go on instantly.
Increasingly, workplaces favour extroverts. We are scheduling more meetings, prioritizing collaboration, even tearing down walls to encourage the free flow of ideas in shared workspaces.
And we’re freaking introverts out!
Everyone fits somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale. Not everyone is at one extreme or another. It’s important to avoid polarizing people and see diverse groups on both sides of the model. That said, there’s a surprising amount you can do to optimize performance when you get this stuff right!
Let’s go back to what I said at the start. Workplaces are tilting toward extroversion. Meetings, collaborating and speaking look like doing. But for introverts, those things are a distraction from working. Introverts do their best work quietly, in their head, and on their own.
It’s not that introverts don’t want to contribute, and they certainly appreciate recognition just as much as extroverts. Here are a few things you can do to help your introverts do great work, speak up and get some well-deserved kudos.
A fun test of who’s who could be watching to see who does what with meeting agendas. Introverts will typically read them, think about what they need to know to come to the meeting prepared, and ready themselves before contributing. Extroverts might glance at the agenda and feel confident they can contribute in the moment.
Remember, extroverts are energized in off-the-cuff situations where they figure things out on the fly. If they say something wrong, it’s fine, they can just say something else. Talking is how they process and find their way to good ideas.
Introverts feel energized by thinking something through to a satisfactory conclusion. They prefer to work by themselves before sharing or collaborating, partly because the idea of contributing something that isn’t “right” is paralyzing.
So if you want an introvert to speak up and share ideas in meetings – and you should – tell them in advance what you want them to talk about and you will see a huge difference.
Sometimes things come up in meetings and you just need people to respond on the spot. The first three people to jump into those conversations are probably your extroverts.
If you need an introvert to spitball, you need to do more than call on them. You need to call on them, give them permission to just offer their best guess, and wait. And you might need to explicitly tell the extroverts in the room to wait too.
Introverts make their best contributions when they have time to think before they speak. But thinking takes a minute. And often, the extroverts in the room can’t wait. They jump in to fill dead air. They might even think they are bailing out their quiet, uncomfortable colleague but in reality, they are interrupting or silencing them.
If you ask a room of eight to ten people to brainstorm, the extroverts get right in there and the introverts sit back. They might send a follow-up email after the meeting but they aren’t part of the synthesis of ideas.
One-on-one brainstorming is where you create the magic. Break your team into pairs and have each pair work the problem. Then, even if it’s the extrovert who eventually shares the pair’s ideas back to the room, you know that 100% of the people in the meeting participated in idea generation.
It takes some patience because it does take longer but if you need people in the meeting, it’s because you need their input. The extra few minutes won’t matter long term if you can get the whole group pooling ideas.
Extrovert leaders can look out across a buzzing bullpen and breathe in their team’s energy. But they might be blind to how draining that environment is for introverts.
Make sure the introverts on your team have alone time to refuel. In a shared office space, find a private room where they can work for part of the day. Or just move them into offices with doors. If their physical workspace can’t be changed, strongly encourage them to take an hour to themselves at lunch and respect that hour. It’s what they need to succeed.
Then you know how tough it can be to have an iota of energy left at the end of the day. Give yourself the gift of alone time during the day. Shut your door. Turn off your phone. Go for a walk. Say no. Those habits are foundational for any leader but they are critical for introverts. Building alone time into your day will build up your resilience and the introverts on your team will learn from your example.
Any questions about specific team dynamics? Or how to get the best out of extroverts? Let me know what you need and I’ll let you know how I can help.
This article was originally published in Chris Obst’s monthly e-newsletter. Sign up now.