Interaction. Connection. Honest commitment. Everyone knows that building a basic sense of trust among team members is essential for creating a synchronized and top-performing team. Even if an employee works alone on the frontline, he or she will always fit into a wider team with each member reliant on another and communicating constantly. Having the ability to trust your teammates and speak up when there's a problem is an absolute necessity.
But for most Introverts who prefer to work alone, it can be challenging to engage with other people and open yourself up to the team. Here are five essential skills we should all learn about developing great teamwork.
#1: Create and adopt team norms
Introverts often withdraw from teamwork because of someone's unintentionally invasive behavior, such as talking over them in meetings or interrupting them when they're deep in thought. The easiest way to eliminate misunderstandings is by establishing a set of norms that make the team more positive and effective for Introverts to work within. For Introverts to feel heard, it's important to give them ownership of the norm-setting process. So, have everyone in your team write down the one thing they feel would help make their work environment better. Examples include:
- Not interrupting one another.
- Not holding loud conversations near someone's workstation
- Responding to emails within 24 hours
- Ending meetings on time.
This activity is useful on two fronts. Obviously, it requires the team to collaborate while openly discussing some potentially taboo subjects, such as how people annoy each other in the workplace. This encourages open communication and conflict resolution. Additionally, team members will become empowered to call each other out on poor behavior that potentially could damage teamwork.
#2: Work on it every day
If you only exercise once every six months, you're never going to get six-pack abs. In the same vein, Introverts need time to build lasting relationships – a single team building day complete with ice-breakers and "trust games" is never going to be enough to get them to open up and share themselves on a personal level. The key, then, is consistency; a little every day.
You don't need a lot of bells and whistles to build teamwork into your daily practices. What you do need, is a structured plan that makes team building part of the fabric of the culture. Weekly catch-ups, monthly lunches and regular small group mentoring sessions are all Introvert-friendly ways to get the team-building ball rolling, and keep it rolling.
#3: Can you hear me?
Introverts have an aptitude for actively listening to what people are saying. This is one of the most valuable skills a person can master. Disappointingly, it often goes under-appreciated since it is often those who shout the loudest, rather than those who listen, who are seen as the biggest contributors to a team.
One way to drive home the importance of listening – and to show how Introverts add value in a quieter way – is through a short team activity. At the next team meeting, read out a list of 15-30 statements using information that is relevant to your team. For instance, you could read out the benefits of a new service you're developing or facts about the company's history. Pepper your list with statements that are peculiar, far-fetched and patently untrue.
Then, ask everyone present to write down the main components of what you said. Who spotted the outlandish information? Who listened carefully and has the self-assurance to question the misplaced facts? Use this exercise to start a conversation about the power of really tuning in to what others are saying, and how this can eliminate misunderstandings and diffuse workplace conflict. Communication isn't just about the words we say, it's about understanding what others are saying, and using that information for the benefit of the team.
#4: Make it meaningful
While Introverts are unlikely to engage with rowdy team building events and other pressure-cooker activities, there are quieter alternatives to encourage bonding in an extremely enjoyable and satisfying way. Community-based volunteering events have a track record of developing team cohesion, motivation and morale. For example, you might send a small group of employees to volunteer at a food pantry, school or environment project such as renovating a playground.
For Introverts, volunteering takes teamwork to a whole new level. It allows people to take on new roles and responsibilities and work together in a non-competitive way. Participants have the freedom to step outside their workplace personas and reveal more about themselves in a much more natural way than would be possible by sitting in a conference room. The fact that the team is doing something meaningful – working closely together towards a common goal – plays to an Introvert's strengths as the team automatically has a substantial topic of conversation beyond the usual office gossip and small talk (which Introverts hate). Plus, it comes with the additional benefit of making a rewarding contribution to the charity of your choice.
#6: End every day with feedback
The most valuable part of any project is the debriefing and it makes sense to normalize the giving and receiving of feedback into your team-building initiatives too, for the same reasons. Introverts are great observers - they see and hear what's going on. Making time each day for everyone to share feedback about what went right and wrong and what each person could do better the next time can really help to bridge the communication gap and create an environment of camaraderie among the team.
When the team gets used to interacting with each other on a daily basis, communication becomes much more open, honest and routine. Keep the feedback sessions brief– just five minutes out of your day should be plenty of time – and have a different person lead the discussion each day. Set ground rules such that people only discuss facts and actions and avoid making judgments. This should really focus people down on saying what needs to be said and stop any games from being played.
One-time, whole-team team building exercises tend to be a source of anxiety and frustration for Introverts, who need consistency in their team building efforts so they can go deeper with their connections over time. The best results occur when you make space for team building in your everyday activities and everyone actively participates. Use the strategies above to get everyone on board so they can start thinking together, and build that level of trust step-by-step.