Teamwork: Introverts vs. Extroverts

I’ve been writing about teams and brainstorming, and reviewing all the research that shows that individual work is actually more creative than group brainstorming. The one exception to effective brainstorming is when it is done online. When properly managed, groups that brainstorm online perform better than individuals – and the larger the group, the better it performs. The same holds true for academic research: Professors who collaborate electronically tend to produce more influential research. What we fail to realize is that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude unto itself. Nevertheless, brainstorming continues to be a popular method within organizations and with teams. Participants in brainstorming sessions usually believe their group performed much better than it actually did. Brainstorming makes people feel attached, but social glue is far different from genuine creativity. Introverts vs. Extroverts In the work I do leadership coaching, I see big differences in work styles depending on whether one is an introvert or an extrovert. One’s attraction to working in social groups may be culturally influenced. In the U.S., for example, companies tend to idealize charismatic extroverts. (Think celebrities and media-savvy CEOs.) Because extroverts usually talk the most (and often the loudest), their ideas are heard and often implemented. Psychologists agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast and sometimes rash decisions. They are comfortable with multitasking and risk-taking. Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They prefer to focus on one task at a time, and they dislike interruptions and noisy environments that interfere with concentration. Extroverts think out loud and on...

The New Groupthink

In “The Rise of the New Groupthink” (The New York Times, Jan.13, 2012), corporate attorney and author Susan Cain explains: Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. There’s a problem with the view that all work should be conducted by teams. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. As Cain writes: Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about. It’s one thing when each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from coworkers’ conversations or gazes. False Benefits of Brainstorming Brainstorming is a creative technique through which group members form solutions to specific problems by spontaneously shouting out ideas, without censoring themselves or criticizing others. The term was popularized by marketing expert Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination. But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and performance worsens as group size increases. Groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which function...

The Hidden Problems with Teams

One of the complaints I hear frequently from the people I work with as an executive coach is the lack of time to get work done because of meetings. Meetings are time consuming, and all teams require them. There are other insidious disadvantages to teamwork, notes Professor Heidi K. Gardner in her April 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Coming Through When It Matters Most”. “Just when teams most need to draw on the full range of their members’ knowledge to produce the high-quality, uniquely suitable outcomes they started out to deliver, they instead begin to revert to the tried and true,” she writes. Under pressure, teams gravitate toward safe ground. While most start out highly engaged, inviting input from everyone, members become risk-averse as they push toward project completion. They maneuver toward consensus in a way that blocks paths to critical information. This process occurs through subtle language cues that warn team members to avoid delays. Team leaders use their positional power to foster harmony and swift decision-making. Although discussions still appear to be open, in reality there’s an effort to move the project along by getting everyone to agree on the optimal course. If this sounds like “groupthink”, it is. But it’s more nuanced and subtle – hence, more dangerous. Groupthink Groupthink, originally researched by Yale University psychologist Irving Janis, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups. It’s a mode of thinking that occurs when a decision-making group’s desire for harmony overrides its realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus, without critically evaluating additional ideas or viewpoints. Factors like group...

The Problem with Teams

Teamwork demands shared responsibility, but it also demands individual contributions. It fails if team members shelter behind the consensus. ~ Robert Heller, Founding Editor, Management Today A recent survey found that 91 percent of high-level managers believe teams are the key to success. But the evidence doesn’t always support this assertion. Many teamwork-related problems remain hidden from view. In the work I do corporate coaching, I often hear assumptions about team effectiveness. Every team thinks it does its best work when the stakes are highest. On the contrary, pressures to perform drive people toward safe solutions that are justifiable, rather than innovative. To raise my own awareness and those of my clients, like those needing a hospital coach program, I’ve been doing some reading about teams. Corporations increasingly organize workforces into teams, a practice that gained popularity in the 1990s. By 2000, roughly half of all U.S. organizations used teams; today, virtually all do. Some teams work together from remote locations, relying on technical communication aids, such as web conferencing and email. Others demand a tremendous amount of face-to-face interaction, including team-building retreats, shared online calendars, meetings and physical workspaces that afford little privacy. “Innovation – the heart of the knowledge economy – is fundamentally social,” writes prominent journalist Malcolm Gladwell. Management expert Peter Drucker, who coined the term “knowledge worker”, points out that while people have always worked in tandem, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself” in knowledge work. Working in teams has definite advantages: o Improved information-sharing o Better decisions, products and services o Higher employee motivation and engagement There are, however, several...

Ethical Failures in Executives

The news media have highlighted numerous cases involving failed CEOs derailed by their low emotional intelligence, or EI. Press coverage has prompted boards to become more sensitive to this leadership trait. You’re prone to ethical failures if you overestimate your intelligence and believe you’ll never get caught. Arrogance distorts your capacity to read situations accurately. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, neurosciences journalist Jonah Lehrer discusses the contradiction of power – essentially, how nice people can change when they assume positions of authority. “People in power tend to reliably overestimate their moral virtue, which leads them to stifle oversight,” he writes. “They lobby against regulators, and fill corporate boards with their friends. The end result is sometimes power at its most dangerous.” Research by Daniel Goleman and other experts supports the view that EI can be learned, and it seems to rise with age and maturity. In 2005, TalentSmart measured the EI of 3,000 top executives in China. The Chinese leaders scored, on average, 15 points higher than American executives in self-management and relationship management. To compete globally, the United States must pay attention to emotional competencies. Developing your EI skills is not something you learn in school or by reading a book. It takes training, practice and reinforcement. The first step is measurement, through behavioral-based interviews and 360-degree feedback. Executives with little experience in receiving feedback can find this approach somewhat threatening. Try to conquer your fears, as the process brings needed attention to gaps and development opportunities. It may be best to work through an executive coaching, like our healthcare coaching. Remember: Your emotional state and...