Managing Introverted Team Members
Harnessing the Power of Independent People
Sita is one of your most creative, talented, and intelligent team members.
When she works from her home office, she comes up with highly innovative solutions to clients' needs. She prefers to work on her own and is successful, productive, and happy.
The problem is that, on certain projects, you need her to work closely with other team members. When she has to do this, she isn't at her best. She finds it difficult to speak up, she's easily distracted by office noise, and she has trouble thinking creatively.
So, how can you harness Sita's strengths as an independent worker, and encourage her to integrate more effectively with the rest of your team?
In this article, we'll look at how you can successfully manage people with an independent or introverted disposition, and we'll discuss what you can do to channel their unique strengths, so that they can shine in a group.
How to Recognize Introverts
Introversion is a personality type that can be identified by certain behaviors, such as quietness, a preference for solitude, and thoughtfulness. Many personality models and tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Big Five Personality Traits Model , include a measure of introversion or extroversion.
You can recognize introverts as people who:
- Would rather work alone than with a group.
- Don't speak up often, especially in a group setting. (When they do, their comments are often thoughtful, intelligent, and considerate.)
- Are good listeners and have a high degree of emotional intelligence.
- Like to process information slowly, and prefer to think through new ideas and concepts before they discuss them.
- Prefer to focus intently on one task at a time.
- Don't like to be the center of attention, and prefer one-on-one feedback or praise.
- Don't have a large friendship group at work, but they have deep and meaningful connections with the friends they do have.
Although some introverts are shy, most simply prefer to work alone. (Shyness is a form of social anxiety that results from fear of judgment or social interaction, but this doesn't apply to all introverts.)
This article is meant as a general guide, and keep in mind that each person is unique. You might have one introverted team member who prefers to work alone, but she may have no trouble speaking up in a group setting; while another team member might enjoy working regularly with several trusted people. Allow for individual differences in your management approach.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Every personality type has its strengths and weaknesses, and your introverted team members are no different.
Thoughtfulness is one of an introvert's biggest strengths. Many introverts prefer to think first and talk later. They learn by listening, and, once they've had time to process information, they'll often come up with a thoughtful response or creative solution. As such, introverts can be valuable innovators and problem solvers.
If you seek out introverts to discuss an issue, you'll often find that they have useful insights to share and that they've picked up on things that others have missed.
Introverts are typically self-reflective by nature. As a result, they often know themselves well, and they understand how to manage their emotions. They may be empathetic listeners, they may have good communication skills, and they can often pick up on others' emotional needs. Introverts can also be a calming presence in a crisis.
Introverts often find that working in a group can drain their energy. They can find it difficult to jump into the "back and forth" conversations that often take place during brainstorming sessions, so they may keep quiet. They might also find it hard to process information in a noisy group setting, and they'll come up with their best ideas when they're alone.
Interestingly, introverts can often make make better leaders, especially when their team is proactive and engaged. This is because they typically spend more time listening than talking, and they're better able to process information from teams that submit many ideas.
Strategies for Managing Independent Team Members
Your more introverted team members have a lot to offer. Use the strategies below to help them reach their full potential alone, and with a group.
Use a Collaborative Approach
One study found that extroverts often engage in argumentative discussions to process ideas and to generate answers to problems. Introverts, on the other hand, often prefer one-on-one collaboration.
If you need to conduct a brainstorming session with your group, give everyone a chance to share their ideas openly, but also schedule some one-on-one time. This will give introverts a chance to work closely with others, and it will encourage them to develop ideas in a way that plays to their strengths.
You can also use Crawford's Slip Writing Method during brainstorming sessions. This idea-sharing technique is ideal for introverts, because it gives each person a chance to think about their ideas without being distracted by others.
Give Them Notice
Introverts need time and solitude to prepare their thoughts. This is why last-minute meetings can leave them feeling flustered and unsure.
Give these people as much advance notice as possible when it comes to meetings or brainstorming sessions. Let them know the agenda beforehand, so that they have time to organize their ideas.
Instead of asking introverts for their opinions during a meeting, seek them out for a quiet chat afterwards. You'll find that they're more open and comfortable in private, and that they're able to think more clearly and share their ideas with enthusiasm.
Stress the Importance of Teamwork
Some of your introverted team members might enjoy working with a team, while others might want to avoid the experience.
If they dislike working with others, let them know just how important teamwork is – and emphasize that some types of work just can't be done by an individual working alone. Explain how their unique strengths contribute to the success of the team, and use the idea of Belbin's Team's Roles to communicate how they can help create a balanced, effective group.
Last, coach them on how to be good team players. Introverts might not know the best ways to speak up in a group, or understand how to handle conflict when it arises. Mentor them on how to navigate these situations, so that they have the confidence and skills that they need to contribute.
Create an Appropriate Work Environment
When team members work best alone, their productivity, creativity, and effectiveness can suffer in open plan offices. Office noise or general conversation can distract them, and it's likely to lead to high levels of stress and low productivity.
Where possible, make sure that these team members have a quiet, comfortable place to work, away from break rooms or high-traffic areas. To minimize distractions, encourage them to listen to “white noise” or non-distracting music to cover general office sounds.
Introverts can be excellent listeners, and when they do speak up, they often have something important to say. It also means that they expect others to listen to them with the same attention and courtesy that they themselves demonstrate.
Use active listening skills with your introverted team members. Don't interrupt them once they start talking, and only think about your response once they've finished. When you do ask a question, give them plenty of time to think about what you said, and allow them time to articulate a response.
Many introverts find it more comfortable to write, rather than talk. You're likely to get a better, more considered response if you save non-priority communications for an email or IM, rather than dropping by their office for a chat.
Keep in mind that introverts might not listen in the same way as your other team members. For example, they might stare into space or doodle on their notepad in a meeting. While their body language might point to inattention, there is a good chance that they're absorbing every word being said. Many introverts need to put all their attention on the listener and avoid other sensory distractions. Introverts might also write down information, or draw a Mind Map, as a way to listen and focus.
Motivate Them on Their Level
Introverts are often self-motivated, especially when they work on tasks or projects that they care about. To keep them engaged, assign them tasks that play to their unique strengths, and allow them to focus intensely on one task at a time. Ask them which projects they enjoy most, and try to build more of these into their schedule.
You can also use McClelland's Human Motivation Theory to identify the drivers that motivate them. This will help you tailor your praise and feedback in a way that truly resonates with them.
Our Book Insight, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," has additional tips on how you can work more effectively with introverted team members.
You can identify many introverts by their quiet, reserved demeanor. They do their best work alone, and they need time and solitude to formulate their thoughts, especially after a group meeting.
To manage introverted team members, use a collaborative approach in brainstorming sessions. Explain how important their unique perspective is to the group's effectiveness, and teach them the skills that they need to speak up and hold their own in a group. Give them a quiet place to work and reflect, and use active listening skills when they do contribute.