In today’s society, particularly in the workplace, extroversion is valued at a premium. This preference manifests itself in hiring practices, promotions, and overall strategy and decision making. Yet when building a team, there is strong reason to consider the value that introverts can offer to both the team dynamic and project outcomes, either in a leadership role or as a team player.
Susan Cain’s 2013 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking examines society’s “Extrovert Ideal”, under which the ideal employee or manager exhibits extroverted characteristics in his or her work. Extroverts are promoted more frequently, influence decisions to a greater extent, and above all can overshadow their introverted peers, effectively silencing them. This phenomenon is only exacerbated by workplace trends that increasingly encourage collaboration at all levels including constant group work and open office plans; situations that all accentuate the strengths of an extrovert.
In light of her conclusions about the status quo, Cain advocates for introverts and the diverse value they offer to a team. She acknowledges that extroverts have advantageous skills in certain situations, such as client interactions or delivering presentations. Yet the perspective of an introvert can bring much needed balance to a team. In terms of decision making, introverted individuals tend to be more methodical in their risk taking, and overall are more risk averse than their extroverted colleagues.
When crafting a team, it is beneficial to balance introversion and extroversion, both in leadership and the team itself. The group dynamic is shaped by the attitudes of each team member, and having a spectrum of personalities will build chemistry. More significantly, however, is the inherent system of checks and balances built into a diverse team. Extroverts and introverts approach problems differently, and a second look from someone with a different perspective can improve outcomes.
Perhaps more important to building a group’s long term culture than the actual number of introverts and extroverts on a team are the methods by which and the environment in which the team works. While collaborating with others is the reality of many workplaces, brainstorming in groups or similar activities related to what Susan Cain calls the “New Groupthink” (a mentality under which group work is considered the best work) can hinder the creativity and output of introverts. In order to obtain optimal results, team leaders must understand each employee, and craft the work environment to ensure that everyone’s skills can be effectively incorporated.
Within Hilltop Consultants, the team leadership roles of Project Manager and Senior Consultant are ostensibly best suited for an extrovert and an introvert, respectively. Given that much of the client interaction occurs through the Project Manager, he or she needs to be adequately comfortable in such situations. As detailed quality assurance is a key concern of the Senior Consultant, some would contend that introverts would be best suited for such a role. While this may be the conventional wisdom, more important is how leadership, whether introvert or extrovert, runs the team with consideration to each consultant. Moreover, creating an environment in which everyone has a similar opportunity to vocally participate helps bridge the gap between introverts and extroverts.
A cogent example of the introvert-extrovert dynamic is my team this semester for Hilltop. Of the six consultants on the team, four lean extrovert while two are introverts. According to the Meyers-Brigg personality test, the Project Manager and I (the Senior Consultant) are both more extroverted than introverted. The remaining four consultants are evenly split, which in my opinion allows for the team to work so well. In our meetings, each team member contributes their insights slightly differently, allowing for a balanced conversation. Whether an extrovert or introvert, each consultant has the full attention of the team, which eliminates some of the negative byproducts of society’s “Extrovert Ideal”. Last week our team went to Escape the Room, a one hour problem solving game in which we used clues to solve a set of complex puzzles. While the more extroverted team members were more vocal with their ideas, we were often most successful when a more introverted team member had an idea and solved a clue quietly, mirroring some of Susan Cain’s findings in her book.
To be sure, it is important to note that most people are not absolute extroverts or introverts, and most people fall somewhere in between. Yet personalities certainly influence the way people interact with others, and should be considered when creating a team or working within one. My experiences in Hilltop have reflected some of Cain’s conclusions from Quiet: When people value introversion and extroversion equally, teams can work exceptionally well.