Perfecting Teamwork: Harmonizing the Introverts and Extroverts on Your Team

A lot of articles out there talk about introverts, extroverts, and the ways to deal with their personality traits. However, they hardly provide clarity as to what it means to be introverted or extroverted and what managers should do to accommodate such variation within any team. This article will help you better understand what introversion and extroversion entail at team level as well as how to deal with conflicts fueled by such differences.

introverts, extroverts

Personality traits and collaboration

Human behavior analysis is highly relevant to improving collaboration and teamwork.

Variations in personality traits affect the way people interact in work-related matters, socially, and interpersonally. People can collaborate successfully, or they may easily end up in conflictual situations in which there are no real winners. It would be trivial to assume that it’s all a matter of case-to-case compatibility. Instead, we should draw from all that we’ve learned about human behavior since psychology has distinguished itself as a science.

Personality traits are characteristics that are consistent across a multitude of contexts and behaviors and great intervals of time. In a sense, they are presets or modes for behaviors. In theoretical models of personality, traits are attributes: their configuration defines a certain predisposition, which, alongside life experience and education, differentiate the individual as unique. Personality and its variation among individuals is studied with the help of many models, which are in agreement about the existence of a particular trait: the extroversion-introversion dimension.

One would expect that this particular trait would be rigorously defined; it is not. Psychology describes extroversion as a tendency to be communicative, outgoing, gregarious even; introversion is, conversely, a tendency towards being reserved, timid, and solitary. Either way, it’s all debatable.

We have neurological insights. We now know that extreme introverts and extroverts present different patterns of cerebral blood flow (how brain areas “light up”). Yet, this could mean a lot of things, really. One thing we speculate is that introverts and extroverts have relatively different brain physiologies. Twin studies also suggest that there is a strong genetic component, that you are, to a great extent, born introverted or extroverted.

One study correlates the amount of saliva you produce after putting a drop of lemon juice on your tongue to your personality. This is because, apparently, introverts are more excitable than extroverts. This is why they need more space and are more withdrawn. Extroverts, on the other hand, have a higher threshold for excitement, which is why they seek it out – are less sensible to stimuli. But what does it all really mean?

Understanding the introvert-extrovert continuum

Classifying people into introverts and extroverts is a convenient dichotomy that offers a pretext to “pixelate” reality to our level of perception. When we force models and paradigms on situations, we make erroneous interpretations and decisions that, in effect, benefit no one. Comically, it’s much like trying to push a square into a circle. It fits only if you focus on what fits.

The distribution of introverts and extroverts is not bimodal, but rather very closely follows the normal distribution. This means that, essentially, the introverted-extroverted trait is a spectrum rather than a polarity; it also means that things are relative, group-wise.

In reality, team members might perceive the most “introverted” person in a sales team as quite a gregarious and talkative, perhaps even as highly energetic and outgoing person in a group of Java developers. The explanation is simple. Take a group of people and measure their heights (or mostly anything else, really). You will notice that some are relatively tall, some are relatively not tall, and most are average. Charting this out and the result is a graph that’s similar to the normal distribution. In fact, the larger the group, the stronger the tendency of your graph to resemble the normal distribution.

Comparing extremes

When you’re taking the most introverted salesman and compare him to the most extraverted coder, it’s basically the same as taking the shortest professional basketball player and comparing him to the tallest middle school female gymnast.

Comparing extremes is interesting. It also creates a very distorted image of reality, particularly when it comes under the form of “quick hacks” or “how to” or other, more or less sensational quackeries. The issue here is that most people fall closer to an “average”, or “ambiversion”, a balanced mixed of introverted and extroverted elements.

If we follow a bimodal distribution, we can say that “almost half of the population” is made of extroverts – the other “almost half” being made of introverts. It’s also 100% correct to say something like “40% of the population is made of ambiverts, with nearly 1/3 of the population being introverts and nearly 1/3 of the population being extraverts”. You can make similar claims about the heights distribution. It’s not false, however, is it really meaningful? How is your team affected by all of this? Is it, really, affected by all of this?

Introverts, extroverts, and team dynamics

Plenty of articles make a case as to how the modern workplace is set up with the more sociable in mind. This significantly affects introverts, who find themselves brutally cut from creativity and productivity by the noisy extroverts; they feel severely impaired in their ability to develop relations and communicate.

However, this is a fallacy. It reduces “extroverts” to noisy, obnoxious bullies, and introverts to helpless, incapable victims. In reality, you’re dealing with highly educated and talented adults with different communication styles and requirements related to personal space.

Obviously, in any meeting, 30% of the participants are responsible for more than 70% of the discussion. How would it work otherwise? Conversations are not possible in groups larger than 3 persons. From 3 people upwards, the “discussion” cannot be anything else but a monologue.

Imagine your team gathers to discuss on a particular topic. Suppose you want to give everyone in the team “x” minutes to talk on that topic. The larger your team, the likelier that most of what’s to be said on that particular topic will be covered by the first speakers. If you try this, you’ll see there’s a point in which everything becomes redundant; it feels like everything has already been said.

Sure, it’s always the “usual suspects” that are in those 30% that always have something to share. That’s fine. You don’t need to make everyone talk, you just need to create an outlet through which everyone can express their point of view. You could do a great deal more and improve on empowering team members through effective communications.

The simple solution

When it comes to creating a balance between introverts and extroverts, you should try putting in place this simple strategy:

  • Implement collaborative technologies. A lot of the anxiety in personal communications has to do with the physicality of communications; integrated, comprehensive technologies such as Hubgets offer teams a way to control interaction.
  • Make everyone aware of the variation in personal preferences for communications, space, dialogue, etc. Hire a professional trainer and organize a teambuilding. From my experience, once team members understand and empathize, they synergize. Repeat this every 6 months to at least once a year.
  • Organize subdivisions and activities that are, at most, a multiple of 3. These mini-teams of 3 create a context in which each team member gets to share their point of view. This can also work as a healthy way of dealing with delegation and reporting.
  • You don’t just need to educate extroverts about introverts. You also need to do the opposite: enable introverts to come forth and shine. Some of the most exceptional communicators are, in fact, introverts. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt if you hired a trainer for some public speaking.
  • People have a tendency to identify with a certain type. This is not necessarily something you should enforce or encourage. It’s easier to “migrate” to ambiversion if you’re not “detained” by your own conception of how you are.
  • Make sure that you have a clear policy as to what sort of behavior is acceptable at work, including what level of physicality.

Overall, an investment of 24 hours of discussion and clarification and team building can do wonders for your team harmonizing. You may be surprised to find out that you need to do a lot less than you expected to make sure that everyone in your team is happy.

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