“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” – Malcolm Forbes
How often do you sit in meetings in which one or two people dominate the conversations while many others sit quietly and say nothing? While this can be normal on occasion, it can also indicate that you are not taking the best advantage of your team’s diversity. And it may be that personality “types” are playing themselves out in a way that needs to be addressed.
When the team leader and team members understand and accept each others’ personality types, everyone can work together to ensure that all ideas are heard and understood. In our teambuilding workshops, we often help participants to take that a bit farther: we want them to first understand that they and their colleagues have different preferences for interacting, then accept that different approaches are OK and, finally, develop strategies to accommodate, even leverage, those differences.
Personality Type Inventories
There are many inventories available for assessing personality “types”, and most of the popular ones are based on the work of Carl Jung. They include the MBTI, True Colors, Insights, DISC and Identity Mapping. Some are quite complex and require time, persistence and practice to fully apply. Others (and there are many) are less thorough but offer the benefit of simply “opening the conversations” about how we can best communicate and relate as a team, given our differences. I believe there is still a lot of value in the simple approach since it gets the team exploring those differences and deliberating structuring their meetings and interactions to make sure that effective communication happens and that conflict is of the “healthy” type. The simple act of exploring these differences together can be a fun and valuable team building event.
The Introvert-Extravert Issue
One of the most easily understood differences in personal style is the degree to which one is Introverted or extraverted. You know when you have extreme extraverts: they talk in order to think. Now, the thinking part is good. But it makes it hard for the more introverted people to contribute. Introverts need quiet time to explore their own ideas and prepare what they would like to say. Often, when the meeting is over, the introverts have thought a lot and said little.
Tips for Creating Opportunities for Introverts to Speak Up
- First, open the conversation about the challenges and benefits of different personality styles. Psychometric assessments and a carefully structured teambuilding workshop can help you do this.
- If you want ideas from quiet people, give them time to think before the meeting. Send out your meeting agenda well ahead, and highlight topics for discussion.
- Related to the above, ask people to prepare a short presentation on their thoughts about key issues.
- In brainstorming sessions, first, present the topic and then structure a few minutes of “quiet time” for people to write their ideas out. You can have them write single ideas on sticky notes to be posted on a flip chart or wall. Have them post all ideas at once, or take turns having people post one idea at a time until the group has run out of ideas to post. This has the added advantage that truly different ideas can come out, rather than having the brainstorm lurch off in one direction determined by the first few responders.
- Use a “talking stick”. Any physical item, in fact, can be passed around the room to indicate that “this individual has the floor so we will listen to her until she passes the stick to the next person”. I’ve heard a similar idea in which a rubber chicken was thrown on the table when a person had gone on too long. This was a high performing group of people who were able to laugh at themselves. Good for them!
- Use a “timekeeper” to limit the time that a person can speak. This can be an important and recurring job at your meetings. It requires that one person monitor the conversation flow, limiting some people and encouraging others. Rotate this role since the timekeeper may find it difficult to contribute effectively to the actual conversation.
- Use a mechanical timer, such as an egg timer, to indicate “time’s up” for the speaker. This helps to free up someone from the role of timekeeper. Plus, it’s completely objective and shows no favourites. I’ve also heard some fun variations of this idea. One group had a mechanical monkey with symbols. Nothing wrong with injecting fun!
Whichever mechanisms you use, the goal is the same: to create a team culture and environment in which everyone can contribute their best ideas and feel heard. This is absolutely critical for getting the best results and solid buy-in from your team.