How we think, feel, deal with tasks and make decisions is driven by our personalities. Awareness of personality types and team working styles play a huge part in how we shape our organisations; from our selection processes, to the composition of our teams and our office layouts. We’re part of a competitive, resource-strapped sector, where proactivity, charisma and optimism are relished and where collaboration and sharing are intrinsic to success. When money and time are tight and decisions have to be made quickly, how can we look beyond those who shout the loudest in recruitment processes, and make time and space for those with reflective and quiet dispositions to excel?
Once upon a time excellence was defined by the culture of character; integrity, honesty, resilience. Think spiritual leaders out in the wilderness, Abraham Lincoln, collaborative working and quiet contemplation. The turn of the 20th Century ushered in a cultural shift in the way Western society appraised personalities. The shift from an agrarian economy to an economy ruled by big business produced a culture of personality. In order to excel professionally, you had to be able to demonstrate charisma, magnetism, a loud voice. Coupled with the rise of cinematic stars, billboards, beauty and charm, a strong cultural bias that glamorised extroversion became, and continues to be, deeply engrained in the way we describe brilliance and superiority within the work force.
This insidious bias has hijacked the real definitions of introversion and extroversion, which refer to where we get our energy from (extroverts from the external environment, introverts from within themselves) and how we respond to social stimulation. It has clouded them with damaging cultural myths: introversion equals shyness and social anxiety; introverts are self-centred, introverts are antisocial; introverts lack creativity. This acts to further embed our bias towards extroversion and has a number of consequences.
In recruitment our competency frameworks reflect our preference towards an extroverted work force. Influenced by the idea that if you are not action-orientated or motivated to network you are not a useful addition to the team, we have come to place emphasis on the social; team-work and ability to build relationships. We prioritise risk-takers, networkers, decision makers. We correlate extroversion with good leadership, and perceive extroverts to be more intelligent, more attractive, more likable and capable, without any proven link between this perception and actual ability. The assessment activities we therefore select, such as group exercises, favour extroverts (whose charisma and presence have likely drowned out the meaningful contemplation of introverts) and in wash-up sessions we focus on the social interactions, often obfuscating substance for style.
We’ve seen the emergence of a value system that Susan Cain refers to as ‘New Group Think'. New Group Think, she says, is an idea that posits creativity and achievement as things that emanate from gregarious places; conversations, group brainstorming. This shuts down the spaces – both the physical places and the times within the working day - for deep thought, focus and uninterrupted solitude. So enamoured by charisma and collaboration, we often overlook the quiet part of the creative process and fail to recognise that productivity and efficiency are, for many people, only achieved in isolated environments.
All of these factors have contributed to a work force who’ve internalised a negative bias towards introversion and, in order to fit in to the extroverted environments of many organisations, make reflexive self-negating choices with negative consequences on their work, their organisation and the wider community. We exist in a sector that prioritises its people, values collaboration, and where survival is often dependent on networking, mergers, and building relationships with funders. Huge questions therefore exist around how we create environments that cater for everyone and how we build organisations that thrive and reap the rewards of the diverse strengths of different personalities.
Introverts are often passed over for leadership positions. Yet, research shows that often introverts deliver better outcomes. This is especially true when they are managing proactive people due to their inclination to an inclusive leadership style and their willingness to facilitate and motivate their workers behind the scenes, rather than micro-managing which is a tendency of extroverted leaders. Research also indicates a positive correlation between degree of introversion and degree of self-awareness and empathy; a positive correlation between introversion and the ability to systematically and accurately process information; introversion and creativity and introversion and technical expertise. These are all hugely beneficial and necessary traits of a thriving and innovative organisation.
For me, this indicates the importance of factoring personality type alongside other measures of diversity when recruiting, and also when thinking through how to improve conditions for existing staff. Positive measures such as removing often superfluous words like ‘outgoing’, ‘networking’ from job descriptions, developing recruitment methodologies in a way that caters fairly to all personality types, and providing a working environment that allows solitude alongside collaborative working are just a few of the small ways to make adjustments.
Awareness of the different working styles and needs of different personality types is, I believe, a key part of maximising staff wellbeing, productivity and an important aspect of smart recruitment. We have cast introversion and extroversion as binary terms and pay little attention to the fact they exist on a spectrum. We often ignore the fact that the people, time of day and the environment we’re surrounded by can alter how we behave. Arguably, the solution starts with being aware of our own styles and how we relate to different situations in the workplace and beyond. At Worthwhile, we work with small, entrepreneurial organisations, readying themselves to scale. At this stage of growth, taking time to consider existing team dynamics and where value can be added, is a hugely important stepping stone towards realising full potential.