You are maybe awash with extrovert Ted talk types in your innovation and collaboration teams but every group needs an introvert to get it done.

Every group of people from a nursery to an old age home will have a division of introverts and extroverts. You can walk into a pre-school and see a range of children either swinging from the wall fittings or quietly sitting reading a book. At some point these kids point themselves at jobs which more or less suit their personalities and off they go.

Historically, you can line up the expected jobs with the personalities of the children and make a good guess of what they might like doing. The same type of people bunch around the same kind of job and therein is created a circle of reinforcement. A fascinating by-product of the digital age is that the types of job and the types of personality for those jobs is changing and the front-line for this fight is in collaboration and innovation.

An extrovert’s world

In most organisations, the lead of ‘innovation’ or the lead facilitator tends to always be an extrovert with an innate extroversion and imagination.  The core concepts of trying new things or being imaginative are naturally suited to people for whom these things come easily. The thing I hate most in the whole world of workshop delivery is the process where people are asked to come up with loads of ideas, put them on post-its and then make an arbitrary ranking of said ideas.  There is a major presumption on this that everyone can easily come up with those ideas, at speed, with other people there, with a facilitator driving speed….. This is fundamentally not for everyone.

There is also the frequent discussion that you have with clients who say a variant of ‘let’s get Jill from operations, she’ll ‘be great at this’.’ This is usually code for “Jill is pretty outspoken and likes to talk a lot’. Aggregated, you get a group of people who typically have a good conversation but you always question whether they are the most representative of the organisation.

This translates even to the concept of bringing in ‘diverse thinkers’ from outside the organisation. It is always the intent to get ‘an artist’ or a ‘musician’ (not noted introverts) and it is rare that the suggestion is made to bring in ‘an accountant’ for some new thinking. There is an implicit bias towards the extrovert type.

How you set-up your teams always tends to include people in this mould for which their experience in ‘having good ideas’ or being ‘creative’ trumps experience or expertise in grinding out results or delivering outcomes. There are typically few completer finishers in these areas and even fewer with the aspiration to get involved.

An Introvert’s world

However, putting introverts in charge of collaboration and innovation is probably exactly what you need. At the stage most companies are at, it’s about building out a new model for working with new methods and approaches. This means that the structures, the PMO and the operating model are at least as important as pretty graphics, a lovely design centre and ‘hipster ideas circles’.  It is easy to hide behind Agile and Design Thinking say as an application of a ‘method’ where the principles and the approach alone are seemingly enough to make a difference. They are not.

So

For your innovation and collaboration teams please consider;

1)   Picking deliberately the most introverted competent person you find and unleash them on the ‘special ideas’ people. The imagination lot will probably hate it but they need them. Ideas however great, uncontrolled and unrealised are not very helpful. The idea is not reward enough itself. (much as this pains me to say)

2)   Pick your workshop groups and attendees like a jury– make sure you have a real cross section and plan accordingly. The defence lawyer (introverts) should probably be allowed a few vetoes. When you have picked the teams, make sure the assignments you set, match the people best. A session on ‘blue sky thinking’ is almost never a good idea and categorically not for everyone. Time for personal reflection, some specificity and time to investigate things properly might actually be better.

3)   Think end to end– improving the innovation journey from idea to execution is exactly where companies need to invest. This brings together the ideas people with the design people, with the data people, and the engineering people and the dev people.  These are all people who at their own personal job crossroads went their separate ways and have now been thrust together. You can make your own judgement but there is a spectrum of personality there which might not be always best served by focussing on the Shoreditch latte brigade.

4)   Be boring– the fun bit isn’t always the most important bit, having some rigour in how set up the function, how you design, plan and run events and even how you select people for the team is well served by thinking of the boring bits. Having a solid PMO and resource and finance management approach might not set the heather on fire, but it might make the difference between a flash-in-the-pan and a sustainable solution which works.

The beauty of collaboration and the explicit goal of innovation is to do new things you haven’t done before. The power of diversity is not in a range of extroverts outdoing each other with crazy new things, it is in harnessing the value of everyone – especially the introverts.

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