Improving Teamwork: The Introversion/Extroversion Variable

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Team working together

A lot of the work we do is with teams. We work with leadership teams, project teams, virtual teams, teams that are thrown together at the last minute and teams that have been together for a long time.

And one of the most interesting things we see in teams is how the introvert/extrovert dynamic plays out. We have all experienced it, where some people have no problems contributing to what is going on while others are quieter and more reserved.

According to the Quiet Leadership Institute, half of the US workforce self-identifies as introverts, and 65% of all workers believe their organisation isn’t fully harnessing the talents of these introverted employees. What’s more, they also estimate that 96% of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts.

Thinking Styles and Introversion/Extroversion

From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that the more aligned someone is with the mental requirements of the work and with the tools and processes for getting that work done, the more satisfying and fulfilling the work will be—and so they’re more likely to be highly motivated and engaged to contribute their all. You could make similar correlations with introversion and extroversion.

When completing the HBDI® assessment, we ask people to place themselves along the introversion/extraversion continuum. The data shows that, in very general terms, introverts tend to be more left mode oriented (A analytical and B detailed), and extroverts are generally more right mode oriented (C expressive and D conceptual). But each quadrant may have its own continuum of introvert to extrovert, and thus its own interpretation and impact. Here are some of the ways the introversion/extroversion characteristics may show up across the different thinking styles:

A Quadrant

Introvert: Quiet, serious, very focused

Extrovert: Debater, often funny, driven

B Quadrant

Introvert: Controlled, always “doing,” often keeps to self

Extrovert: Dominant, organiser of events and people

C Quadrant

Introvert: Expressive through writing or non-verbals, caring in a quiet way

Extrovert: Talkative, interested in bringing people together, sharing

D Quadrant

Introvert: “Off in their own world,” does their own thing, independent

Extrovert: Constant flow of ideas, loves to experiment with others

Both introverts and extroverts—as well as all four thinking styles—are equally intelligent and add important value; they simply prefer to go about their work in different ways. Where an extrovert may perform better under time and social pressure, an introvert typically performs better when focused and alone, without time constraints.

When it comes to creating the workplace conditions for everyone to succeed, these differences matter.

Tips for Leading Teams with Introverts and Extroverts

HBDI® Practitioner Roy Maurer, Partner at The Clarion Group, has some tips for improving teamwork when leading introverts and extroverts:

  • Recognise and acknowledge the strengths of each
  • Provide introverts with a clear, purposeful role in and out of meetings to help enable participation
  • Schedule time for each participant to speak to help balance contributions. Recognise that introverts may prefer to speak last and have more time to prepare
  • Group decision-making and brainstorming may play to the strengths of extroverts, while the time for individual thinking/writing/speaking will benefit introverts
  • Virtual, online, open-source collaboration may draw out and play to the strengths of introverts
  • Design and balance the team’s work—individual as well as group and inside as well as outside of meetings
  • Assign work to introversion and extroversion strengths based on objectives and needs (eg. thoroughness of task, speed)

Improving teamwork starts with creating the conditions for everyone on the team to succeed. Make sure you’re engaging the entire team.

Creating a comfortable teamwork environment for both introverts and extroverts is just one form of inclusive leadership. 

Download our playbook to learn what else you can do to be a more inclusive leader.

This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated in 2019 and republished to ensure our readers don’t miss out on valuable information.