Collaboration is highly-valued as a preferred method for getting things done in today’s modern workplace. But what happens when you are an introvert like me? I prefer to do my best work when I am alone. Does this make me a bad teammate? Is that why my decision to be an entrepreneur is a good fit?
Stephen Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer with Steve Jobs, is an introvert who wrote in his memoir, “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee…work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
With research now seeming to back up claims that solitude can be a catalyst for innovation, perhaps introverts who prefer to work independently won’t be viewed as odd. Well, at least not as odd. Maybe leaders will begin to rethink collaboration as the only way to be innovative or productive.
In my leadership development classes, I often introduce team members to their preferred workplace behaviors. Then we do a video activity where each person chooses a co-worker that represents the most challenging workplace behaviors for them. As you might expect, the most introverted fictional character is frequently identified as the co-worker others would find most challenging.
Participants tend to interpret his shyness, cool demeanor, methodical approach, and analytical nature as negative. Because the character prefers to work alone, he is often judged as unfriendly. Like Wozniak, this character understands that he does his best work when he isn’t being interrupted. He needs the solitude to consider options and make the right choices.
Forcing him to work within the constraints of a team would likely be counter-productive. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have contact with others, but it acknowledges how his preferences should be honored if we expect him to show up for work every day engaged and motivated.
“I am a horse for single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork…” – Albert Einstein
If your workplace is designed for maximum interaction and collaboration, you may wish to consider the needs of those who value silence and solitude. Like me, they might enjoy a laid-back discussion with a colleague or two, but will probably do their best work behind closed doors.
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