In a study of 450 people in business I found 40% of people admitted to not being fully productive. That was shocking; discovering the most common reason was an overlap of culture, communication styles and introversion was worse. This means leaders are creating a productivity problem in their own teams, as culture and communication styles are both leadership led. Here’s 6 things you could do to create a more introvert friendly culture.
What is company culture?
The simplest way of describing company culture (team culture, or any other group) is “the way we do things around here”.
The unwritten rules which everybody expects to be followed, the beliefs and biases which don’t get challenged. OK, sometimes they do get challenged, but then the office feels like a storm cloud for weeks. It creates tension, nightmarish team meetings, debate and headaches for days afterwards.
There is a saying often cited as being from Peter Drucker “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, both are critical elements of leadership. Both are determined by the leaders, that is – you.
An unwelcome culture for introverts?
Imagine working somewhere where you never feel comfortable, your way of working isn’t approved of, and your ideas are not welcome. The result, you feel permanently on edge, you’re unlikely to do your best (even though you try); you’re likely to leave more quickly than you would otherwise.
If you could tell your boss how you were feeling, he would say something like “That’s certainly not what we want anybody to feel and it’s just a few people” (in other words it’s your problem), or “you need to toughen up, challenge it a bit more” (in other words, it’s definitely your fault). How would you feel now and how likely are you to look for another job?
I was the “new boy” (proclaimed as such) and everybody else in the team meetings were lavishly praised as they gave instant answers (even though the answers didn’t answer with the question). Once praise had been lavished on the favourites, it was normal for others to be accusingly asked what their answers were. One day I asked for more information about the question, so I could answer. I was made to feel about 2 inches tall and laughed about for three weeks after. “Ha, it’s detail Jon who doesn’t understand the question” and “Oh it’s Mr analysis paralysis”. I had only asked one question (which I later discovered others didn’t know the answer to)!
Needless to say I didn’t give my best under those conditions and started to look for another job. After some months of feeling I was the only one, I found another role. It was my leaving day when four or five others said that they felt the same and that many others had already left.
Introverts feel like this in many companies. Given that a third of your staff are introverts – are you prepared to take this chance?
What’s an introvert friendly culture
You don’t need to pander to “snowflakes” (as I’ve had quieter team members described); creating an introvert friendly culture doesn’t involve transforming everything at work.
Consider how you could make the following examples normal practice in your firm. Normal that is, from the perspective of those quieter team members!
1:Less ego or power posturing
A culture full of power posturing, willy waving and big egos is not likely to be one where introverts want to compete, or perform well. Most introverts will find it draining, on top of how they’ll feel when surrounded by people anyway. Click here for ideas to deal with over large ego in your team.
2: Questions of clarification are normal
It’s OK to discuss and ask for more detail. More introverts work with detail than simply big picture (where more extroverts operate). This is a strength which your team can use. However, when people are given disparaging comments when asking for clarification, they’re unlikely to ask again.
3: Not expected to be loud
Introverts are not, by definition, quiet or shy. However, where calling out, loud chat and raucous laughter and the norm, is likely to be something introverts struggle with, as this normally means there’s an expectation to be like this – or be an outcast.
4: Less forcing people to stay for after work drinks
It’s great when people feel so good working together they happily have a drink after work. The problem becomes when people do it the other way around. Making people stay for drinks doesn’t make it a good place to work, especially for introverts. Considering how work social events are managed can make a big change to culture.
5: Everybody’s strengths are celebrated
Where dominant, bold, strong, fearless and challenging are seen as the best (or only) way to achieve things; other attributes are looked down on. Things like listening, summarising, careful decision making, and planning are also strengths. In a culture where quieter strengths are overlooked, there’s likely to be very uncomfortable introverts. You’re likely to be getting less productivity, poorer decisions, and higher staff turnover. By you making it clear you recognise all strengths and encouraging other to do the same, you’ll improve culture.
6: Company values are seen in practice
Seven out of ten firms I visit, which have thought about their company values have created a great aspirational list. They’ve then put them on the wall, told everybody to follow them and done nothing else. There’s not point! If the company values are ignored and not followed (specially by leaders) you’re developing a toxic culture – especially in the eyes of the more detail conscious people who think about things like that.
Working towards your company values can be good, but only when you and others do the same. Click here for an example of how you could do this.
Culture does not trump strategy
When all is said and done, culture is not more important than strategy. Your firm needs both strategies to deliver on your goals and strategies that engage people by considering them and their psychology (and that’s more than “just” the introverts).
Culture is created by everybody in the company, but the more senior your role the more impact you have on it.
Introverts often overlooked, yet represent a third of your workforce; can you afford that?
- Spotting an introvert, hiding in plain sight
- Understanding introverts for better business
- Does it take longer to manage introverts?
Gina Gardiner is well known for her leadership expertise and illuminates the way for enlightened leaders to create a more profitable & meaningful mission. Here's our discussion on leadership and managing introverts.