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The American culture is a fickle one. All through childhood the vast majority of children are herded into the introvert's mold by parental rules and cookie cutter school systems that want to children to sit still, be quiet, behave, fit in, follow the rules, and focus.

Then we get to adulthood and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a world that values extroverts. And we are now expected to get out there, make things happen, climb that ladder, achieve! Is it any wonder so many people reach adulthood lost, confused and not sure what is expected of them?

What, you may be thinking, does all this have to do with top performing teams? The answer is plenty!

People are only effective to the degree that they understand themselves and others. Teams made up of people who lack understanding will not be a top performing teams. In fact, most are dysfunctional to the degree that understanding is lacking.

The best way to build high levels of understanding is to improve self and others awareness, and the best way to do that is to assess the members of your team using a tool such as the CORE Multi-dimensional Awareness Profile (CORE MAP), which has the capacity to get beneath the conditioned layers and discover the truth that is frequently obscured through years of conditioning. But adding awareness by any means is helpful and should be a top priority for any company. The purpose of this article is to add to that body of awareness.

Because introversion and extroversion are aspects of human nature that are relatively easy for most people to determine, this article focuses on these two attitudes. Seeing a reality and knowing what to do about it are entirely different things though. Although most people are able to determine whether an individual is more bold or reserved in their approach to new people and situations, few understand how to address these differences or work effectively around them.

When understanding is lacking, teams fail to communicate well, are not effective at involving or getting the most from the whole team, and fail to gather important input when it comes to planning and problem solving. Here's why:

In the American culture approximately 27% of the population, more than one in four people, is introverted. This is the group that, other than having to deal with the tensions of shyness, moves through childhood relatively easily because they are compliant and obedient. They don't mind following the rules.
They don't mind following the rules as adults either, but once we reach adulthood, remember, the rules change. Now extroversion rules the day and many of those little extroverts who were not allowed to express themselves as children start making up for lost time as adults. Problem is; they never learned how to use those extroverted skills effectively as children so many of them use them in emotionally immature ways. So, in the world of adults, the introverts are frequently overpowered, overlooked and misunderstood and steam-rolled over by that large majority of extroverts.

That quarter of the population that draws their energy more from quiet reflection than from bold action or interaction is often viewed by extroverts as too withdrawn, uncommunicative and even anti-social and, being extroverts, they don't always keep those opinions to themselves.

It's no wonder that introverts sometimes think there must be something wrong with them. It's important for that extroverted majority to understand that introversion is a perfectly normal temperament, not a pathology that needs fixing. A person's tendency to be extroverted; focused on and energized by the outer world, or introverted; internally energized and inner focused is an innate function, hard-wired into the brain. Introversion and extroversion, like other innate traits, are present at birth and will still be present the day we die. But, having them doesn't mean we use them well, nor does is mean that we can't flex and bend to meet one another's needs. The best performing teams have learned to understand and appreciate one another's differences and to flex and bend to meet one another's needs.

Both extroverts and introverts bring particular strengths to a team, but those of the introverts are often not recognized, valued or utilized and, in a team where attention to detail is vital to the outcome, the result can be disastrous. To be sure your team is getting the most from every member here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Examine your environment. In many businesses there is a bias toward bold action and those who believe instant decisions and speedy results are the only way to do things tend to be impatient with those whose natural pace and rhythm are slower-paced. Realize that still waters really do run deep and your patience with the deep thinkers and endlessly patient feeling types can pay huge dividends.
  • In meetings, be careful not to overlook or overpower the introverts. Because extroverts speak up readily, it is easy for them to overpower the introverts in conversations and to fail to get their input. Introverts need time to process questions when asked and, when they hesitate in order to think things through, extroverts assume their hesitation either means they didn't hear the question or don't understand it so they often repeat or rephrase the question. Failure to allow the introvert time to think before speaking can irritate, frustrate and sometimes shut them down. When they aren't allowed to contribute many deep thoughts and valuable insights are lost.
  • Make a point to ask for the opinions and viewpoints of the less verbal and assertive members of your team. You will be amazed at the treasure trove of information and insights they have to share when you are patient enough to listen.
  • Teach the extroverts to purposefully include the introverts in conversations and brain-storming sessions and to hold their tongue when it's the introvert's turn to speak.
  • Provide assertiveness training for your introverted team members. Many blossom in amazing ways when they learn the skills to help them speak up and interact with people more effectively.
  • Understand the strengths and tendencies of each of your teammates and assign work that compliments the natural strengths of each. When each team member is working to his/her strengths as well as in cooperation with one another, the team will be at the top of their game every day.