10/27/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Dec 27, 2014

How to Make Your Business Team More Productive for Introverts

Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

If you encounter an individual who considers the prospect of working on a team to be a form of long-acting torture -- you just might find they would describe themselves as an "introvert." To an introvert, teaming can become a bit of a workplace nightmare -- in direct opposition to how they would normally approach their work. The essence of teaming experiences, including vying for airtime to present ideas, can put off an otherwise satisfied employee. Ultimately, the often "on-demand" nature of team participation, doesn't always align with all personalities or work styles.

But, introverts, those who tend to "focus inward," can still excel in the realm of teams. For a significant percentage of the US that describe themselves as an "introvert", team membership shouldn't boil down to becoming louder to be heard. As expressed by Laura Richardson, VP at of The Innovation Games Company, "Introverts shouldn't be relegated to catching the team leader in the hallway, after the meeting to share their opinions comfortably".

Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, explains that teaming can be a positive experience for introverts, as long as they have the opportunity to process information in a manner in line with their work-style strengths. "Introverts don't mind meeting with a team," she says. "We know that's necessary for strategizing. But we prefer if our contribution to the larger project is something we can do by ourselves, then bring back to the team. We're most productive when we can focus quietly and independently on a task."

There is good reason to ensure that introverts participate fully in the team process. In fact, research has shown that the hesitancy to monopolize the conversation can actually make them powerful team members. Why? Introverts tend to listen to suggestions more openly, in comparison to their extroverted colleagues -- a tremendous advantage when developing solutions.

Here are some ideas to help team membership become more productive for introverts:

  • Build mutual respect. It can appear that introverts and extroverts are from different workplace planets. As a result, it is imperative that we understand, and respect, the differences in the way we each process information.
  • Utilize solitary ideation. Introverts are more sensitive to the stimulation that occurs while interacting with a team. Offer opportunities for introverts to start the idea generation process before a team meeting is held. Distribute information concerning the focus of the challenge, the anticipated obstacles and goals, before the first team meeting.
  • Build confidence in the process. One strategy to increase confidence in the team process can be borrowed from the theater. GameChangers, which utilizes improvisation to enhance communication skills, uses learning-based exercises to help all team members. "Improvisational game structure gives even the most introverted players on a team a point of focus that allows them to confront concerns regarding the social dynamics of collaborating," says Mike Bonifer, co-founder and CEO.
  • Take control. Encouraging broad participation in a group can require careful direction. First on the list -- controlling the mine fields that deter full participation. "Loud talkers" and "Interrupters" who squelch the input of other team members, must be addressed. Set guidelines for participation. If negative behavior persists, deal with the problem privately.
  • Use the 8 second rule. During team meetings, try not change topics or shift gears too abruptly. Pause and wait 8 seconds before moving on to the next topic. You may find that this brief pause, allows an introvert time to chime in and share an opinion.
  • Game it. Gaming applications offer an interesting alternative to effectively gather information from all types of team members. From the early phases of the ideation process -- to weighing options -- gaming can help collect potential solutions and visualize the entire decision process. An added plus: "loud talker" no longer dominates the conversation. (See The Innovation Games website here.)

How do you help your introverted team members shine? Are you a "card carrying" introvert?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. She also writes The Office Blend. This post first appeared on LinkedIn.