At the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, every writer will give a reading at some point during the week to an auditorium full of people. It will be brand new work that you’ve just written, shaped as much as possible with the help of the participants in your workshop, people you’ve known since Saturday. In between, you’ll sleep in spartan college dorms, eat together in the cafeteria and, occasionally, when you can be inspired no more, throw back a few drinks at the local bar.
In many ways, it’s the introvert’s nightmare. It’s also what makes these conferences so fascinating. A group of writers, many of whom fall somewhere on the introverted side of the scale—ambivert at best—willingly put themselves in what is potentially the most energy-draining situation possible. The entire scenario seems designed to work against their strengths.
Creating Comfort Zones for Improved Teamwork, Productivity and Success
Except at Kenyon, where it’s designed to build new comfort zones that allow everyone to excel. Workshops are small, intimate groups. You learn at the outset that you will read and discuss your own and others’ work. Thoughtfulness in feedback is a cultural standard.
A schedule is distributed on day two listing out the names of the 20 or so writers who will read each night over the course of the week. As you scan the list and panic at the sight of your name—number 19 on the last day—your instructor informs you that the goal will be to work with each writer on the day of their reading, helping them select the piece and make final refinements, and then listening and giving feedback as they practice reading it, both in front of the class and in the auditorium itself.
By the time your number finally comes up, you’re practically jumping out of your seat to get to that microphone and deliver your reading, full of poise and confidence, to the shouts and applause of 100+ fellow writers.
As one participant said on the final evening, “Not bad for a bunch of introverts!”
The Quiet Leadership Institute estimates that half of the U.S. workforce self-identifies as introverts, and 65% of all workers believe their organization isn’t fully harnessing the talents of these introverted employees. What’s more, 96% of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts.
Is that how we end up with so many open-plan offices and so many disengaged workers?
As we look for ways to improve teamwork, can we learn a thing or two from Kenyon’s example?
Thinking Styles and Introversion/Extroversion
From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that the more aligned someone is with the mental requirements of the work and with the tools and processes for getting that work done, the more satisfying and fulfilling the work will be—and so they’re more likely to be highly motivated and engaged to contribute their all. You could make similar correlations with introversion and extroversion.
We ask people to place themselves along the introversion/extroversion continuum when they complete the HBDI® assessment. The data shows that, in very general terms, introverts tend to be more left mode oriented (A-analytical and B-detailed), and extroverts tend to be more right mode oriented (C-expressive and D-conceptual). But each quadrant may have its own continuum of introvert to extrovert, and thus its own interpretation and impact. After all, just look at all those introverted writers (typically a C-quadrant activity).
Here are some of the ways the introversion/extroversion characteristics may show up across the different thinking styles:
Introvert: Quiet, serious, very focused
Extrovert: Debater, often funny, driven
Introvert: Controlled, always “doing,” often keeps to self
Extrovert: Dominant, organizer of events and people
Introvert: Expressive through writing or non-verbals, caring in a quiet way
Extrovert: Talkative, interested in bringing people together, sharing
Introvert: “Off in own world,” does own thing, independent
Extrovert: Constant flow of ideas, loves to experiment with others, have fun
Both introverts and extroverts—as well as all four thinking styles—are equally intelligent and add important value; they simply prefer to go about their work in different ways. For example, whereas an extrovert may perform better under time and social pressure, an introvert typically performs better when focused and alone, without time constraints.
When it comes to creating the workplace conditions for everyone to succeed, these differences matter. One introvert writes longingly about a friend who has her own office that affords her the quiet and privacy to focus.
At Kenyon, things like small groups, scheduled downtime, “advance warning” about participatory activities and lots of preparation helped create an environment that introverts could be comfortable in and thrive. At the same time, the spirit of collaboration, time-driven assignments and opportunities for socializing offered plenty of appeal to extroverts. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.
And that’s a good thing because it’s highly unlikely you’re dealing with a homogenous workforce. Diversity of thought and introversion/extroversion are the norm in nearly every group. If you’re leading a team, the failsafe strategy is to plan for that diversity.
Tips for Leading Teams with Introverts and Extroverts
Several years ago, HBDI® Practitioner Roy Maurer, Partner at The Clarion Group, delivered a webinar for practitioners on the work his organization is doing to incorporate introversion and extroversion characteristics as another layer of insight with the HBDI®. Here are some tips he shared for improving teamwork when leading introverts and extroverts.
- Recognize and acknowledge the strengths of each.
- Provide introverts with a clear, purposeful role in and out of meetings to help enable participation.
- Schedule time for each participant to speak to help balance contributions. Recognize that introverts may prefer to speak last and have more time to prepare.
- Group decision-making and brainstorming may play to the strengths of extroverts, while time for individual thinking/writing/speaking will benefit introverts.
- Virtual, online, open-sourced collaboration may draw out and play to strengths of introverts.
- Design and balance the team’s work—individual as well as group and inside as well as outside of meetings.
- Assign work to introversion and extroversion strengths based on objectives and needs (e.g., thoroughness of task, speed).
Improving teamwork starts with creating the conditions for everyone on the team to succeed. What are you doing to engage the entire team?