Help! I’m an Extrovert Managing a Team of Introverts

Here’s how to make your team of introverts love you – even if you’re an extrovert.

If you’re an extroverted manager, you might find yourself mystified by your more introverted staff members: They don’t want to do workplace social events, they’d rather not team-build, and they stay in their offices all day. How are you supposed to create a cohesive team when everyone’s acting like a hermit?

The strange reality is that there’s a default in American workplace culture to assume extroversion. But some of the management practices that work beautifully with extroverts can go over like a lead balloon with introverts – which means that you should be particularly thoughtful about how you manage your introverts.

Here are some secrets to winning over the hearts of introverts, even if their style is different from what feels natural to you.

1. Provide private work areas, to whatever extent you can. Introverts often prefer to work in relative quiet without interruptions and can have trouble focusing when there’s constant conversation around them. That means that you should avoid open office plans and give people as much privacy as you can. If you don’t have the option of giving everyone their own offices, consider erecting cubicles or dividers to let people wall themselves off. And taking a cue from trains’ popular “quiet cars,” you might even consider dividing your work space into quiet areas and less-quiet areas and letting people choose where they want to work.

2. Limit the on-the-spot brainstorming. Many introverts feel put on the spot when they’re asked to brainstorm without much prep time and instead prefer to have time to think and process their thoughts before being called on to generate ideas. Try giving people a chance to prepare in advance: Provide detailed agendas for meetings ahead of time to give people a heads-up about what they’ll be discussing, explicitly ask people to think over Topic X and come prepared to share their thoughts, or take breaks during meetings to give people time to sort through their ideas if you want them to eventually share them with the group.

3. Use email. Many, although not all, introverts prefer to handle things – particularly simple things – in email and save talking for things that truly require back-and-forth conversation. If you routinely pop into an introvert’s office without warning for things that could have been quickly handled by email, that introvert may be kind to you about it but probably will be secretly raging in her mind.

4. Don’t push social events. Extroverted managers – and employers in general – frequently assume that employees will view office staff happy hours or summer BBQs as a treat, but your introverted employees may see these events a less-than-welcome obligation. Make it clear to your team that you welcome their presence at work social events but that they’re not mandatory – and don’t make them feel guilty or weird if they choose not to go.

5. Realize that team-building doesn’t require special activities. Lots of people – especially introverts, but plenty of extroverts too – build strong bonds with colleagues by simply working with them. You don’t need special team-building activities like rope courses or lengthy off-site retreats. Collaborating on projects, working together to finish a project, relying on others in the course of normal work – these things all build your team. (But if you do want more formal team-building, check out these ideas for low-key, introvert-friendly ways to do it.)

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  • Truity

    Allison, I really enjoyed your article. Introverts have a lot to offer, so it’s important for managers understand how to keep them engaged, while still giving them the freedom to succeed.

    What a lot of managers (and co-workers) don’t realize is that many of the things believed to be inherent in Introverts (shyness, inability to lead, dislike of others) are actually misconceptions. While many Introverts may appear shy and softspoken, their preference for introspection and listening make them good candidates as team leaders. Managers who don’t take the time to learn more about the Introverts they manage and find ways to integrate their skills and ideas into the group are missing out.

    I think one of the most interesting points you made was that team-building does not have to be focused around activities. Activities are a great way to “break the ice” when a new team first comes together, but after that it has the potential to put Extraverts and Introverts at odds. While Extraverts may be excited to do something stimulating, Introverts may be just as happy sitting back and focusing on work, and that may cause some tension.

    • Janet Lee

      That’s the misconception I’m constantly having to explain to others (by others, I mean extroverts) – being shy, dislike of others, antisocial, etc. I am not shy, I don’t have problem with people and I have great social skills. It’s just that, if I’m not working, I’d rather be regathering my energy at home. There are many shy extroverts as well.

      Like the article said, I don’t need to socialise with my workmates outside of work. I like them, but I already see them enough at work. If I’m invited to their homes for a private function, I’m happy to attend, but I don’t need any off-site-bonding activities.

      There are many extroverts who are very distracting to be around because they constantly need attention and validation. I feel like screaming “Shut and do your effing job!!!”