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Do the Best Teams Include Introverts and Extroverts?

Joshua Spears

COO for Traitify | Film, Books & Animals, aspiring Kool-Aid man | Inventor/Visionary in Work

Spoiler alert: I'm going to give away the ending right here at the start. Do the best teams have extroverts and introverts? Yes, they do.

At least sometimes.

In some situations.

Among some people.

Confused? Sorry. It's just that we humans are far too complex for many yes-or-no questions regarding personality, disposition, and character. The issue of extroversion and introversion is a big topic – so let's begin with a proper understanding of terms.

Stated simply, introverts draw energy from spending time alone, while extroverts are fueled by interacting with others. Conversely, introverts spend energy on social interaction, while extroverts are sapped by isolation. This is not a matter of people who dislike people and those who love them. Nor is it profound shyness as opposed to irrepressible gregariousness. I understand where that perception comes from, but it's wrong.

Moreover introversion/extroversion isn't a binary, either/or proposition. It's a matter of degree on a scale. As the pre-eminent psychologist Carl Jung, who coined the terms in the 1920s, said: "There is no such thing as a pure introvert to extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum."

Indeed, at the extreme end of any personality characteristic continuum – whether it's for openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, or neuroticism (i.e. The Big Five) – therapy is often necessary.

The Care and Feeding of Introverts and Extroverts

But the good news is that the majority of your job applicants and employees are living their lives and conducting their work somewhere in between those far reaches of the spectrum. So let's focus on getting the most out of them and their workplace collaborations.

Diversity in groups is a good and powerful thing in terms of personality, just as it is with regard to gender, ethnicity, and race. There is a great deal of research to support the idea that groups featuring personality-type balance are more cohesive and effective, a fact explored in this valuable and fascinating article) by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino.

The logic is fairly obvious: Extroverts and introverts can complement each other with their different temperaments and inclinations in much in the same way that experts from different disciplines can productively collaborate.

The million-dollar question, then, is how to cultivate heterogeneous groupings and optimize their performance? The key is for them to understand each other and to develop an appreciation for what extroverts and introverts need and want. With the help of their managers, they need to "get" their co-workers; otherwise, they're not going to get very far. At least not together.

When it comes to working best with each type, several things in particular stand out. It's crucial to give your introverts time to observe situations and think through the challenges before them. Parachuting an introvert into chaos and demanding instant answers is a recipe for failure. Also, to the extent possible, train and correct your introverts privately.

Extroverts, on the other hand, love to explore and "dive in," so they're more likely to enjoy "learning by doing." They like to talk things out, so let them do that even if you think you already have the answer. And when possible, embrace their natural enthusiasm and independence for the benefits they truly are, rather than stymying them with too many rules.

When they understand each other, introverts and extroverts can work together brilliantly – but when they don't, sources of conflict emerge. Imagine an extroverted group member, unaware of a coworker's introversion, seeing that colleague saying little or nothing at an initial meeting, then standing off from the group. That extrovert is likely to find such behavior odd. Likewise, an introvert will probably be initially uncomfortable with an extrovert who slaps every back in the room.

It's not hard to imagine that each will come away with misconceptions about the other, many of them unfair and unflattering. Lazy, uninvolved, pretentious, inexperienced, the extrovert may conclude. Self-important, egotistical, inefficient, the introvert may determine.

When this happens, it's more than unfortunate. It represents a lost opportunity and could prove counterproductive. With some forethought and assistance, these workers could have produced a harmony together, each type feeding off of the other. If only they had known.

But how could they – and their employer – have known sooner? Most people tend to reveal themselves as more introverted or extroverted eventually, but trying understand someone's personality by observation alone is a tricky game fraught with error. A good personality assessment is a far more effective method of gaining the kinds of insights that can help you decide whom to hire, and how to manage them.

To see how our unique visual personality assessment works (and to see how easy, fast, and even fun it is to take), just request a demo.

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