Collaborate & Thrive: Does Your Office Cater to Its Introverts?

By | September 6, 2012
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"As an introvert, it took me too long to know my own strength—and it took me too long to harness my own strength." — Susan Cain (@SusanCain), Inbound12

Girl WhisperingEver think that by nature, most marketers are loud, outgoing extroverts?

If so, you might be surprised to learn that one-third to one-half of the U.S. population is introverted. In fact, some of the greatest leaders and creatives are introverts, including Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling and Warren Buffett.

The PR 20/20 team was in Boston for HubSpot’s Inbound12 inbound marketing conference last week. It was there where we were able to hear Susan Cain speak to the power of introverts. Check out Susan’s book for the full story—Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Her keynote at Inbound12 made our team think about how agencies are generally structured to the extrovert’s advantage, and ways we can better cater to introverts.

The Power of Solo Creativity

When I think of typical marketing agency creative space, I immediately think collaborative areas, bright colors, even a pool table and packed fridge—anything to help “open the mind.” However, the reality is that many of the most creative minds need solitude to harness great ideas.

From her book, Cain writes:

...decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases.

Cain brought up a really great point that any hiring manager should consider. If someone were to tell you in an interview: “Yes, I really work better alone and prefer to work alone,” would you dismiss this person? Or, would you recognize that it’s a best practice for creative, focused individuals?

There’s a necessary balance and tolerance that we need to foster to make creative introverts feel comfortable.

Destroyed Group Dynamics

Think about your office. Who’s the most dominant, assertive, dynamic, charismatic? Do they always have the best, smartest, and most well thought-out ideas? If we’re being honest, not always.

If we’re conforming to the norms of social dynamics and a few extroverts are leading group culture, it’s really hard to grab the best ideas from the team as a whole. Cain’s point here is that we all tend to favor extroverts—it’s built into our own human nature and culture. Being mindful of the bias is the first step in recognizing and fostering a quiet revolution in your office.

3 Ways for Your Business to Harness the Power of Introverts

So what can you do to bring out the creative and confidence in all members of your team? Cain gave the following tips for business meetings, office space and leadership. Think about your agency and how each applies.

1. Even Meeting Atmosphere

According to Cain, the number one complaint when introverts and extroverts go into meetings is mutual misunderstanding. Extroverts complain that introverts don’t contribute, and introverts complain that extroverts take over.

Consider the following solutions to level the playing field at your next meeting:

  • Instead of sending an agenda before the meeting, assign actual tasks for people to brainstorm and bring results or thoughts to the meeting. Allowing everyone to brainstorm individually before coming together as a group results in more creative ideas, and more time to think them through.
  • Halfway through your meeting, stop. Give people a minute to think and process, then perhaps go around the room and give each person time to participate.
  • Consider electronic brainstorming as a way for introverts and extroverts to collaborate and really remove the distortions of group dynamics that gum-up the work. Keep post-meeting communications open in an online forum so that introverts have time to bring their best ideas to the table.

2. Maximize Office Space

Do people in your office often “steal away” for a solo walk? Why do you think of it as a bad thing? Knowing we can be more creative when alone or focused, encourage others to take solo time.

Cain is convinced that every office needs three ingredients to cater to the most creative and collaborative space. These include:

  • Lots of space for casual, unplanned conversations. Cain cited how Steve Jobs designed the Pixar office space with one, centralized area for bathrooms so employees were guaranteed to run into one another.
  • Balance community space with private places where you’re not worried about what you look like or if others can see you. (Nooks and crannies, quiet corners, and closed-off spaces are a good thing.)
  • Check the mood. If you’re looking to create an atmosphere of creativity, think in terms of transcendence, which has been long linked to creativity.

3. Driven Leadership

The Jim Collins book, Good to Great, looks for similarities among successful companies and leadership. It finds that the most successful businesses are driven by passionate, yet humble, leaders. Going along with these findings, Cain recommends looking for the following attributes in your business’ next leaders: 

  • Know where they want to go. They may not be the best speakers or those with natural leadership skills, but those skills are easier taught and practiced than what motivates a person and what vision they already bring to the game.
  • Can create the core idea (not only get people behind it).

How does your agency cater to introverts? How do you really pull the best from your most important asset: talent? I would love to hear thoughts in the comments below!

​Image Source: Katie Tegtmeyer