Me-working or Team-working – Where Are You?

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During a deep discussion with a Clarity Therapy client this week, we touched on a theme that I’ve often thought about. His orientation, his preferred work-style is similar to mine, in that he prefers to work more independently.

Don’t try to manage me. Just give me the job to do and I’ll do it. And don’t make me dependent on the (non-) efforts of others.

On the other hand, there are many people who gravitate toward building, leading, or being part of a larger team.

Interestingly enough, the person I reference above is clearly an extrovert, and absolutely does his best work in and around people. But I’m thinking there is a work-style, a preference, that has to do with independence vs. interdependence.

We can picture it, perhaps, as a continuum (similar to what we were discussing with the Introversion/Extroversion scale):


Now, obviously, to be effective in business most of us have to work, at various times, in more or less team/interdependent situations. But I strongly prefer to work more alone than as a dependent part of a team – and I’m wondering if the preference, the orientation, is DNA-level wiring. Put me somewhere in the Mostly Alone/Light Collaboration end of the scale.

Again, this isn’t a measure of introversion or extroversion, nor is it a function of whether we enjoy people and even work around them. A gregarious sales person can still prefer me-working, while a quieter introvert may feel the greatest comfort being part of a larger team.

What do you think – does this sort of scale make a valid distinction? Where would you place yourself?

About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

23 Responses to Me-working or Team-working – Where Are You?

  1. I move constantly between the two. Of course, in my writing, I’m alone – but later in the day I typically spend a lot of time in a collaborative environment. I’m certain of the need for this moving back and forth.

    • Ric – I think in some senses many of us do shift back and forth circumstantially. But would you say that you have a default setting, a preference where you feel most effective?

      • Oh, like a Myers-Briggs!?! I’m right down the middle on that thing, too. My so fortunate to have a lot of different type of work I do in this company – and much really does require a closed door and nose to the grindstone – while other requires collaboration, white boards, and plenty of bavardé.

  2. Great post, Steve. I think it’s a progression, too. As you are able to teach more, or desire to teach more, intradependence becomes important, so you become willing to deal with more staff personal issues.

    • Agreed, Geoff – I think we do grow and expand somewhat over time. And while I really enjoy (voluntary( group collaboration, what I find (as my default setting) is that I really don’t care to be managed, or to manage others. That level of (structured) interdependence goes against my grain. Is that “grain” hard-wired? That’s what I’m pondering…

  3. Greg Hartle says:

    I need to chew on this a bit more, but my initial reaction (based on years of personal experience managing people and consulting small business owners) is to believe there must be a DNA component. Of course, one can develop a skill set to work better in either environment (independent or team), but there appears to be an optimal default setting.

    • Greg – that sums up pretty well what I’m also thinking right now. I wonder if a lot of unhappiness at work may be tied to a sub-optimal environment for the person’s default setting – whether as an independent/interdependent person, or as an aspect of the introvert/extrovert continuum…can we avoid bad “matches” of people and roles by being more aware of these settings?

  4. Jon Swanson says:

    What kind of team? We’ve been wrestling with that at work. We are a team, but we’ve realized we aren’t a team like a basketball team or a football team. For a bit we wondered if we were like a tennis team. Several matches, some individual, some doubles. Cheering for each other, practicing some together, but not a collaboration. And then we realized we are more like a relay team. Individuals working as hard as they can AND completely depending on each other for the success of the hand off.

    • Jon – fabulous analogies. Relay teamwork (which “feels” more comfortable to me) is a far cry from, say, synchronized swimming or ice hockey. Hmmmm….

      • Jon Swanson says:

        with the cold weather at the moment, the convergence of synchronized swimming and hockey is a remarkably terrifying image, skating around protruding feet.

  5. Dang, I just lost a long comment. The “your not logged in” error struck. Grr. I’ll rewrite in a bit. Thanks for your post Steve, it makes perfect senses. (Steve, if it’s simply in moderation, please delete this comment. Thanks,)

  6. A couple of years ago, one of the guys in my Vistage group said to me, “You’re a great leader, but a terrible manager. You need to build your organization around your strengths…and beng around people all day is not one of them.” At the time, I kind of scoffed at him. But then the economy and the necessity to reduce expenses “encouraged” us to go completely virtual. Last year was the second best year in our history…this year will be our best. I do it all from home with a team across North America. It turns out my introversion was creating stress for me in an in-office environment and I’m much more successful in a virtual one.

  7. Joe Cascio says:

    I, like Gini, realized only after many unhappy years that offices create stress for me. I much prefer working at home with visits to the office when necessary. And there’s a school of thought espoused most notably by Jason Fried of 37 Signals, that for people who do think-work and data-work, “the office is where you go to be interrupted.” Requiring people to be in an office is, to me, a holdover of the pre-computer, pre-internet era when it was difficult to interact and move information around without being in the same physical place.

    Offices are in no small way social theatre. They force people into face-to-face interactions constantly, whether the work requires it or not. For many people, this creates tension and unnecessary emotional energy expenditure. Worse, this Theatre of the Office gives disruptive, aggressive or manipulative people a stage to ply their trade on.

    All that said, however, I do find I need frequent doses of people-time, too. Working, talking, having lunch with people who are enthusiastic about a project feeds my enthusiasm. But then I need to take that enthusiasm back to a place where it’s productive and for me, that’s my home office.

  8. Paul Chaney says:

    As someone with an introversion preference – that’s how the Meyers-Briggs folks refer to it – I tend to land on the scale at the same point where you find yourself Steve. However, even as a solo entrepreneur, I don’t see that as being completely realistic or the perfect paradigm. There are times when integration into a team environment is necessary.

    Suffice it to say, I do see a correlation between introversion/extroversion and me vs. we.

    • Paul, I agree that we may not be able to have perfectly aligned circumstances (all the time) with our preferences. My concern is that we be self-aware enough to recognize that certain roles, company setups, and work methodologies may not be a good long-term ‘match’ for us – and that we seek to optimize according to OUR wiring, not someone else’s legacy expectations. Make sense?

  9. There was nothing worse for me in school, especially college, than to hear the words “group project.” Ack! Translation: It was take twice as long and be half as good as if I did it myself.

    Ironically, I’m also known to be quite an extroverted active networker and relish time spent in the company of others.

    At the risk of sounding like I am schizoid, I find myself often on either extreme end of this continuum. I immensely enjoy working independently when the work I’m doing is highly creative or requires high concentration. But when I need to move a community or make things happen, then I need to move to the other end of the spectrum.

    BTW, I am not a Gemini (though I sound like I might be).

  10. Interesting conversation Steve. For me the amount of time for a project also plays into my preference. If I have the luxury of time, I like working in a team and getting different viewpoints. If we are on a short deadline with a large team then my stress goes up!!

  11. Steve you already know my answer 😉

    I am like you in that my DNA setting is more light collaboration and alone. Which is why I enjoy working with clients where I go in we have a braindownload – I walk away with their story, goals, what stakeholders want to achieve and an objective.

    Then I go collaborate with my team and we all perform on our own with mini daily conversations to keep aligned.

    Most of my work with the exception of on site conferences, trade shows and events is done alone. And I like it 😉 Sounds like it meets all my needs of both alone and team time.

  12. Pingback: Your Internal Wiring: Strategic, or Tactical? « Connection Agent

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