Finding the Perfect Fit

The Evil HR Lady on how to get a team of introverts working together

Back Article Sep 11, 2014 By Suzanne Lucas

About 70 percent of my team are introverts, and all of them were here when I came on board as a manager. They won’t come together to solve problems. We have weekly staff meetings and give everyone an opportunity to speak so we can coordinate and work together, but I get the sense that they don’t have time to involve someone else. In fact, one of my employees told me, “I like to figure things out on my own.” It’s like each one of them lives on an island, and it’s too hard to take their boat over to collaborate. Any advice?


As an introvert and a hard worker, I sympathize with your employees. Think back to school and the horrible group projects your teachers and professors required you to do. The end result of those projects is that hard workers learned they can’t trust anybody else and slackers learned that if they just sit back, the hard workers will take over. Great education, right?

And I suspect that, subconsciously at least, your employees remember that. They are introverts, so they prefer to work alone, and their experience in group work has been negative anyway. You’ve tried staff meetings, and you’ve tried asking them to work together. The response you get is, “I like to figure things out on my own.”

Why? Why do they like to redo work that others have done? It’s not because they’re introverts. I’m an introvert, and I still dislike wasting time re-doing shoddy work. What I see here is an indication that your reward systems may be set up to support this behavior.

Now, since you inherited the staff, it’s highly likely that the system was set up by their previous manager, that the staff has been burned before and that they’ll be darned if they get burned again. Many, many managers reward the very behavior that they say they hate. If the accolades and promotions go to the person who has the most information, why on earth would they want to share? If you can protect yourself against a layoff by being the sole owner of information, why would you want to give that information away?

But they’ve also given you the solution to their problem. They like to “figure things out” on their own. So, pull them into a staff meeting and present your problem. “I have a problem I need solved. You all aren’t communicating with each other, and as a result, our department isn’t as efficient as it could be. All of you waste time re-doing work that other people have already done because there is limited communication. I understand that in the past, people have been rewarded for solving problems and doing things on their own, but that will change. What we need is overall efficiency, and silos limit efficiency.”

When it is clear that they understand what you are saying, you can add, “I need you all to figure out how to solve this problem.”

You can do this through brainstorming right there in the meeting (which you’d probably prefer), or you can do this by giving them a deadline and having them give you their ideas by the end of the following business day. Or, you can be a truly evil manager and say, “And so I’ll be back in an hour, and I expect that you’ll have a solution as to how we can communicate better in this office.” And then walk out and shut the conference room door.

I kind of like the last option (they don’t call me Evil HR Lady for nothing) because it forces them to work together, right then. It also makes the problem their problem and demonstrates that you mean business.

The critical thing for success, though, is that you take their ideas seriously. You may not like what they come up with. It may be things that you think are stupid. But if you don’t at least try it, you’ll reinforce their deep seated idea that group projects are terrible. Try whatever they come up with. Reward even the smallest amount of cooperation within the group. You’ll gradually see your group working together. It will definitely take time, but it absolutely can be done.

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Visitor (not verified)September 15, 2014 - 2:24pm

Wow. I wish I worked for that group. I got fired from a job because the supervisor said I didn't work hard enough at "making friends with "other women in the office." After she told me that "women can be hard to work with because they're cliquish and b----y," she advised me to "walk around more" and "chat" with my female co-workers to show them I was friendly. Never mind that none of them showed the slightest inclination of wanting to speak to me. I'm just guessing, but if your staff won't work together on projects or even welcome newcomers, that sounds like a management problem. Managers get paid "the big bucks" because they're supposed to have the ability to bring people together, right? Maybe it's the manager who isn't a "good fit."

Vicki (not verified)September 19, 2014 - 1:08pm

Are you certain that they don't work well together and don't want to collaborate?

Or do they not do these things in the way you expect or think they should?

For example, maybe they don't speak up in "brainstorming" group meetings, but they do talk one-to-one with each other at their desks. Maybe they seem to be sitting at their desks without ever talking to each other, but you can't see the email going back and forth. Maybe they say "I prefer to work alone" because they see you as trying to force them into group activities.

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