Successful Teamwork for Introverts and Extroverts
Learn five disciplines for building better teams.
Posted Dec 21, 2017
How can you lead a team to perform better amid multiple distractions? New York Times bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton answer that question in their soon-to-be-released book, The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance (February 2018). The authors’ found that employees are spending exponentially more time in teams. Yet, how effective are those teams?
Drawing on their extensive research, Gostick and Elton share the proven ways managers can build cohesive, productive teams. They identify five crucial disciplines for effective team performance. During my interview with them below, they describe their insights into these disciplines, including specific thoughts about the role of introverts and extroverts on team performance.
NA: We share a passion and curiosity about the role of collaboration in improving the performance of teams. In your book, the first discipline to great team performance is to “Understand Generational Differences.” Would you say more about how those generational differences play out?
AG: Our research has found a handful of pretty big differences in what motivates many Millennials in comparison to older workers – some of which bucks conventional wisdom. For instance, while “autonomy” is one of the stronger motivators for Boomers and Gen Xers, it ranks near the bottom for Millennials.
CE: Another data point with Millennials is that “recognition” from their bosses and coworkers matters much more than it does to older workers. Managers need to consider these trends seriously if they want to engage and retain younger workers on their teams.
NA: That's an important distinction about what motivates different people, particularly from a generational lens. Your next discipline teases out the concept of motivation even more. Your second discipline, “Manage to the One,” describes the importance of sculpting jobs to enhance individual engagement. Can you say more about what this means? In what ways would that same advice be useful when thinking about introverts and extroverts on a team?
AG: Many of the best managers we’ve studied see huge payoffs in team productivity by tailoring the management of their direct reports to tap their people’s unique motivations and develop each employee’s career, which we call job sculpting. Relatively small changes in tasks can create huge boons in the productivity and loyalty of team members.
CE: Each person has what we call a motivation fingerprint, a unique combination of motivators. Some might be driven more by teamwork and challenge, others by learning and service, and still others by helping colleagues to develop their talents.
When considering the motivation of extroverts, for instance, we see that many thrive on recognition from their managers, while a lot of introverts feel awkward when singled out for a public commendation. Some extroverts enjoy a lot of coaching and mentoring, while introverts may find such help to be cloying.
AG: Our data shows that people are complex. Understanding each teammates’ specific motivators provides a nuanced way to engage employees one-on-one.
NA: What a great concept – motivation fingerprint. I love how it captures the uniqueness of each individual. And, your third discipline is “Speed Productivity,” which you describe as helping new people and teams work faster and smarter. Many introverts tend to work more slowly and methodically rather than the quicker pace of many extroverts. How might these differences play out in this concept of speeding up productivity?
AG: Conventional wisdom was that it took a year for new employees to learn the ropes. Today, we expect new people to figure out all aspects of their jobs in about a month (often less). Managing successful integration into a team – especially for introverts who might be troubled by moving quickly – has a lot to do with managing fear and building strong relationships.
Leaders need to ensure their new people feel secure, and one key in that is helping new team members build solid relationships with colleagues. This is especially important for introverts—who typically prefer working with a small group of individuals they feel comfortable with.
CE: Now, admittedly, creating bonds of affiliation has typically been considered outside the bounds of a manager’s job description. When was the last time the CEO told you to amp up the chumminess of your team? Yet consider the striking increase in team performance that MIT researchers noted at one bank call center that simply had everyone on the team go on coffee break together – versus the standard practice of staggering break times. The average hold time for calls dropped by more than 20 percent for teams that had been the lowest-performing, and employee satisfaction scores also rose dramatically.
AG: The point is that it’s important to help build bonds. It’s also important to consider the nature of introverts as you welcome them aboard. One vice president we spoke with told us of a new employee who joined her team.
“I have a very extroverted management style,” she said, “but the new guy had a very introverted style.” The man’s style seemed similar to a company executive who was also more introverted, “So I sent the new employee to spend a couple of days with that more introverted leader, shadowing him, sitting in on his meetings, helping learn how an introverted kind of leadership style could be really successful in our firm.”
NA: How interesting that speeding productivity is more relationships and security than efficiency. So the example of the introvert shadowing an introvert leader is intriguing about how to find an authentic path toward success.
Your fourth discipline is “Challenge Everything,” which is to inspire innovation through healthy discord as well as help employees feel safe to speak up and debate. How do you create the conditions to foster that healthy discord, particularly given the toxicity of so many workplaces?
CE: We found a core set of effective practices that some of the best team leaders use to practice this kind of transparency and enhance feelings of psychological safety in their modern workgroups. Just a few include: setting rules for debate and, as a leader, taking a turn leading it; diligently and publicly asking questions of team members at all levels, and creating latitude for risk-taking and failure.
The most innovative teams we’ve studied have regular, intense debates—which has been fun for us to observe. The ability to disagree, without causing offense, is essential to robust communication and problem-solving within teams.
AG: Yet, when we pose the question to groups of leaders what’s better—a team that’s almost always harmonious or one that has conflicts and arguments, the vast majority vote for a team without disharmony.
The irony is that teammates want the opportunity to challenge each other – as long as discussions are respectful and everyone gets the chance to contribute equally.
NA: So disagreement is fine as long as people are able to get along in the process! For many introverts, one difficulty is challenging something on the spot, since they often need for time to process and reflect first. What tips or recommendations do you have for creating supportive environments for all types of people to express dissent on the spot?
AG: This is exactly why managers have to set ground rules for healthy debate. They need to actively run many of these discussions, at least at first – modeling the right behaviors: how to make a point respectfully, asking questions of colleagues deferentially, and not taking themselves too seriously.
CE: It’s also the job of team leaders to ensure that all members understand that discussions are not to be hijacked by one or two strong voices, but that everyone must be given a chance to speak up—especially your introverts.
NA: That’s an important message to convey! Lastly, your fifth and final discipline is “Unify with Customer Focus” by building bridges across functions, cultures, and distance. What does that mean? What are some recommendations for how best to unify? And, what are the keys for unifying while simultaneously honoring the differences as well?
CE: Getting teams unified around a codified purpose has become an increasingly urgent issue for managers in a time of growing diversity and globalization. Leaders often attempt to increase team diversity by building bridges between functions, creating what we call cross-functional teams.
AG: Unfortunately, members in these new teams frequently remain at odds and never achieve their goals. Most have been reared in a world where they’ve been largely siloed from other groups. When customer-interests rule – really rule – it helps to adjudicate between opposing views and interests.
For instance, let’s say a cross-functional team, tasked with research and development, is asked to speed up creation of a new product feature because word has it a competitor has the same thing in the works. Typically, this could involve a tussle over whether the feature can be launched in the timeframe – especially given other demands. An intense focus on the customer can help broker agreements with various groups involved in any changes that might be required in delivery, assignment of personnel to meet the need, and rescheduling of other work.
NA: It sounds like creating that shared focus is a key ingredient to success. Thank you, Adrian and Chester, for your powerful insights on fostering effective teams and successful collaboration between introverts and extroverts!
Copyright © 2017 Nancy Ancowitz