It doesn't matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. At some point in your career, you will be required to work in teams.
Introverts - the thought of having to become 'exposed' and having to deal with sometimes loud, opinionated colleagues, or having to put yourselves 'out there' could be daunting. You really would prefer to be left alone to do your best work. I get it. I am an introvert myself. But here's the thing: you run a real risk of sabotaging your careers if you are not seen as, (gasp), team players. There is also a possibility of not receiving credit for your work or being passed over for promotions.
Extroverts - you may have to 'tame' yourselves and get over your 'big-fish-in- a- small-pond' mentality for the sake of the teams. You too will be judged on how well you can co-operate with others. This unspoken assessment could make or break your careers.
So how do you, introvert, work well in a diverse team to achieve the desired results?
And how would you, extrovert, rally the troops, while at the same time ensure that there is a 'democracy' of influence within the group and that the strength of one does not overshadow power of all?
The simple answer is. this - through effective teamwork communication. Remember that communication encompasses oral and verbal elements, as well as non-verbal, (body language) cues.
In the video below of the revised classic story of “The Turtle and the Rabbit”, we could learn some valuable lessons for good teamwork dynamics. (If you are unable to view the video on your mobile device, click here.)
Let’s address these tips or “rules of engagement” closely.
1) Know your uniqueness but willingly accept challenges
The Turtle was aware that he was naturally disadvantaged and that technically, he could not win a race with the Rabbit whose greatest asset was his speed. But that did not deter the Turtle from accepting the race. Even after losing the first time, he did some thinking and having identified his core competency, challenged the Rabbit to a second race...which he subsequently won.
Similarly, in a team environment, you will need to show that you are committed to the cause by rising to the challenge. This you could do by communicating your ideas in a clear, simple manner. Suggest a meeting to tackle key areas and use a free web-based application such as Google Hangouts for instant messaging and video calls. Send emails or make calls. Take 'minutes' after discussions, send reminders and above all, give timely and factual feedback. If you are not the team lead on a project, support the lead/supervisor by doing all these things whenever feasible. Such actions would soothe ruffled feathers and encourage active participation of team members.
No one expects you to morph into a different being just to get the work done as you will up feeling disingenuous if you do.
However, as we should always strive to improve our communication skills and practise new, desired non-verbal behaviours until they become positive parts of our personas, there is an interesting school of thought, à la Professor Amy Cuddy. In this TED video about how body language shapes who we are, she advises: "fake it 'til you become it". (You could also click here to view the video.)
Therefore, in your team environment, even if some traits are alien to your personality, ‘fake’ certain behaviours that would be beneficial to your team and to your overall performance. These could include speaking up in meetings, assisting team members, being proactive in your assigned tasks and striving to bring value to the group. Help the team succeed and your efforts would be quietly noted. Moreover, you would become a better communicator and a wiser professional.
2) Do not be over-confident
Realise that the team's success lies in the sum of individual, productive parts.
The Rabbit learnt the hard way. As it was stated, he was so certain of his skill that he became lax. So while he was napping under a tree, the Turtle prodded on at its slow pace and won the race.
During a team project, over-confidence can lead to costly mistakes, which if unchecked by the team lead or other members, could lead to financial or operational losses.
Just because you can boast of a wealth of experience in a specific location or knowledge of a complex function that is invaluable to the project, does not mean you should 'lord' it over your team members. You do not need to dominate the conversation. Others may have valuable suggestions worth noting that you haven't considered in your persistent bid to 'prove' yourself.
Communicate with humility: check the tone of your voice and speak in a controlled register when the entire team meets. Avoid using "I" consistently, except there's a vote and start suggestions with: "Let's consider this...."; "Perhaps Mr. X could try this..." etc. No one likes to be lectured to.
3) Seek clarity at all times
There is a possibility that members of your team may be based in other geographical regions where face-to-face meetings may not always be possible.
True, with the technology available, you could manage projects by creating cloud-based 'shared folders', which every team member could assess via his computer or mobile device once the application is installed, as is available with Dropbox. Similarly, you could have visual contact with team members via Skype, VSee, or other Google Hangouts alternatives.
However, when it is impractical to use such applications for whatever reasons, the communication is likely to be restricted to emails and telephone calls.
In such scenarios, clarity becomes crucial for ease of execution.
In the video, after each one was beaten by the other, the Turtle and the Rabbit came together and had an honest conversation about their attributes. They were clear about their strategy for the team race and co-operated with each other, harnessing individual skills for a co-ordinated and flawless execution. The result? They won the race...as a team.
So make your telephone calls productive by listing the key issues to be tackled in a calm tone, observing telephone etiquette such as keeping the calls short, listening without interrupting, paraphrasing where necessary etc. Follow up with emails soon afterwards, ensuring that subject line are precise and use bullet points to highlight information. Seek clarity and transparency to ensure that team members are updated so that the project's pace is not stalled by incomplete information or other setbacks.
4) Celebrate the team's success
The success of one means the success of all. Even if you are the catalyst for your team's noteworthy feats, celebrate your contributions in the team's success.
Be generous with your praise and express pride in the effort of the team. You are stronger together than you are apart.
In the video, we are told that when they won as a team, both the Turtle and the Rabbit felt a greater sense of accomplishment than when each won separately.
Their honest communication, co-operation and trust in each other's ability made the difference in the result attained.
And that really is the beauty of effective teamwork.
It is now clear that at the heart of great team dynamics is clear and effective communication.
There is also the notion that we should never stop learning. We cannot know it all. The day we become complacent in our careers and stop learning, is the moment we stop growing.
So you see why it shouldn't matter if you are an introvert or extrovert, a millennial or seasoned professional? When working in a team, remember the “rules of engagement” mentioned in this post and become a more effective team player. Your career would thank you for it.
What other tips would you give for great teamwork? Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.
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N.B – First image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan; via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image courtesy of Cooldesign; via freedigitalphotos.net. Third and fourth images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via freedigitalphotos.net. Fifth image courtesy of Nongpimmy; via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image courtesy of Jscreationzs; via freedigitalphotos.net. Videos courtesy of Youtube.