Who would think creating a high-performance team relies on substantial opportunity to not spend time together? What cutting-edge organization touts occasional solitude as a key to breakthrough innovation?
It may run contrary to the partiality for interdependent and collective work in today’s business culture, but these ideas are appealing to almost half of your potential workforce: introverts. Organizations must better support those who are more naturally comfortable and productive in relatively quiet circumstances, even reflective solitude at times.
These are three things introverts need from leaders to be effective:
1. Time and space to recharge
The rule for energy in groups: “Where extraverts gain, introverts drain.”
An introvert with a run-down battery will tell you the exhaustion is as much physical as mental. Extraverts instinctively derive energy being around other people. For introverts, unplugging for periodic alone time is necessary to stay energized and resilient.
To this end, allow introverts to occasionally close their office doors, or offer quiet rooms and alone spaces if your office is based on cubicles and open workspace.
Encourage people to take walks during breaks or lunch, and offer a work-from-home option.
Give your team permission to monitor and care for their own needs, and respect feedback on meeting scheduling.
What’s important here is not granting a permanent pass to go solo. Rather, it’s endorsing the chance to proactively recharge before the gauge hits empty.
2. A safe place to do their best work
Not all good work is collective, and not all collective work is good.
While extraverts love to “spitball” ideas with a collection of engaged colleagues, introverts often do their best work in their own heads. They’re not inclined to “think out loud” because it actually can detract from the quality of their thinking.
Regular meetings and team gatherings are, or course, necessary. But also provide introverts the opportunity to spend quiet time in the hard work of thinking about issues.
Give a heads-up before meetings by providing key agenda items. Introverts will benefit from thinking things through before engaging.
Allow written summary input from introverts where practical.
When structuring project teams, establish rules of engagement that allow introverts to go offline periodically. Also, ensure that introverts reconnect with the team to share their reflections.
3. Encourage introverts to be transparent
As the saying goes, “If you don’t know what an extravert is thinking, it’s because you’re not listening; if you don’t know what an introvert is thinking, you haven’t asked.”
Introverts can be their own worst enemies at work. They’ll move from private thought to private thought, gladly connecting the dots with no felt need to check for outside reactions. They may become unreasonably attached to ideas that eventually emerge fully formed — but this circular, internal process can create huge blind spots.
Of course, even the best ideas usually benefit from input and sharpening. Introverts can sometimes lose the chance to influence by the simple sin of omission. It’s useful to ask introverts directly for their input.
Remind introverts that transparency is not “all or none.” Even if they’re reluctant to share a thought not yet finalized, introverts can be encouraged to contribute things like: “Let me share my current thinking,” or even the more simple, collaborative inquiry: “Here’s what I think. What do you think?”
Introverts aren’t broken. They don’t need to “pass” as an extravert to succeed in a team that favors collective work and interdependence. They do need, however, an environment in which leaders support and acknowledge their need for quiet reflection, while encouraging them to periodically leave their own headspace.
Ted Grubb is a senior enterprise associate at the Center for Creative Leadership, an executive education provider.
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