Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | November 5, 2009

Teamwork Doesn’t Have to be a Headache

This week I’ve been quite frustrated with team work but have learned so much from it that I felt compelled to share some ideas for making team work efficient!  It’s not so much because of the task at hand that we were having issues, because that was fairly easy and we did an excellent job in the end, but because it started out almost confrontationally with some team members insiting we brainstorm on the spot as a group, take rushed decisions without any research or time to build on the new ideas brought to a meeting.

And in truth, different people have different ways of working and that is one thing I’ve definitely learned this time around, with a team that was extremely diverse (Canadians, Dutch, Italians, Indians, etc.).  and very big too — imaging coordinating all those ideas and facilitating constructive discussions in that context.


Gifted Adult’s Thought Patterns & Organization

But so what do you do?  What do you do – especially if as a GT young adult, your way of thinking and working may differ from others? There are many ways in which those differences may appear:

  • Intellectually overexcitable people tend to “ponder intellectual problems earlier and longer” which means that you may take pleasure (and see the value) in thinking about a problem longer before you feel the need to pass onto action, and you may feel rushed by others who feel that they must act in order to see progress
  • ” Global form of intellectual overexcitability is frequently found in individuals of mixed introversion/extraversion type. When combined with emotional and imaginational OE, global intellectual overexcitability aids the development of a rich mental structure with multiple talents and great self-awareness.”  If this is your case then you can anticipate that you will run into a problem because you will naturally “see” more things (connections/links, incoherences, bigger picture) than others and your ideas may be descredited by others if they don’t see them or if you cannot articulate them succintly but clearly.
  • Gifted people with intellectual overexcitability also have “ the capacity for sustained intellectual effort” which means they sometimes will feel annoyed when interrupted in their thoughts : others might be done “thinking about the problem” faster than you will – because you may be looking at it more broadly, and in more depth at the same time.  This may be irritating if you are not done reflecting on a question and your team needs to move on.
  • You are likely to have more abstract-thinking as well, which may or may not be valued by the team or the people evaluating you.  You may have to transpose the conceptual part to a more applicable case (give people illustrations or examples of what the concept would mean) to help everyone understand and grasp the ideas.
  • Gifted people are very concerned with “fairness” and justice.  From an early age on they look at situations in the world, and understandibly, they want to be treated fairly as well — and this may sound weird to say but more so than most people, in the sense that even if a situation disadvantaged them, if it were “fair”, then they would probably pick that option over an unfair outcome where they would be (unjustly) getting the upper hand.  In team work it can be problematic because while the gifted person may care about procedures being “fair” (ex. including everyone in the decision making, if they value democracy, or recognizing contributions), others may care more about the outcome (getting the work done regardless of who contributes ideas).  This may lead to conflict or resentment.


Creating Meetings that Work for You

There are many ways in which teamwork can occur and usually people will be flexible if you suggest one way or another.  Here are some ideas I got knowing how I work :

(1)  Structure meetings in a way that gives you time to think. One of the problems we talked about was that your thinking might be more in-depth and therefore might require you more time to examine a question than your peers.  This may seem like a waste of time if your peers think the team has already found an obvious answer and it may be hard to resist that pressure – so don’t let that happen to you.  You can do this in many ways :

(a)  Agree to always make a decision at the beggining of the next meeting, giving you enough time to debate on the ideas during the meeting and thinking them through on the next, instead of rushing to a conclusion for the sake of solving something right then.  If it is not possible (tight schedule), then ask for the meeting to have a break (lunch break or other), where participants can reflect a little on their own before reconvening.

(b)  Incorporate the use of technology in your team.  Non real time technologies allow everyone to brainstorm or think at their own pace while still building on each others’ ideas.  It can be a good tool to have introverted people start thinking without the pressure of time or peers, while still allowing extroverted people to come up with instantaneous ideas in the meetings.  The key is to give people time to prepare and think ahead of time so they feel comfortable evuating proposals and discussing ideas at the meeting.

(2)    Reassure your co-wokers. Unless they’ve worked with you a lot, it’s very possible that your peers don’t know you much and hence they will assume that whatever is true of themselves is true of you too.   You may however be working in very different ways.  Although it takes you more time to think through than most of the team, once you’ve got the idea nailed down your ability to focus for sustained periods of time, your exceptional communication skills, and your creativity and intelligence make taks such as writing a paper/report a breeze — for you, the complicated part is coming up with good ideas, the execution seems almost trivial and you can probably achieve it in a record time.  If you don’t somehow communicate this across, it’s likely to get you stressed out because people will think you are not going to be able to deliver on time.  This is called Role Set Theory.  To get around this issue you need to “train” your peers/boss:  they need to perceive you as predictable (so tell them about how you work and what they can expect), reliable (hopefully build a strong reputation for someone who always delivers high quality output on time), and responsible (they have to know you’ll be working on their thing even if they’re not watching, otherwise you might be micro-managed).  Again, one way to do this is through setting deadlines you can meet so that people may be reassured mid-way, but ask for those deadlines to be spread enough to let you handle and manage your work at your own pace.  Also, technology can help in that it can track changes made to documents, or accomplished tasks (with checklists) without having peers call you and pressure you into doing something — it shows you’re responsible and doing work-related stuff.

For more information you may want to check this article out: How to Kill Creativity

(3) Allow for information redundancy and discussion— if you see your (abstract) idea isn’t understood, repeat it using a different frame, concrete example, etc. and be patient (you may have thought about this for a while but if it’s their first time hearing it, they may need some adjustement to fit it with their other mental models).    It helps if your team is supportive and really tries to understand – one way to encourage them to do this is to welcome questions and dialogue.  Look for two things:   try to understand what information they are lacking (context, particular info they are unaware of, etc.)  or what assumptions they may hold which is different from yours- these are the two main things that usually prohibit smart or more abstract ideas from being adopted.

(4)   Agree on objective criteria when making decisions which the team can go through to make decisions. If you get stuck on defending an idea or another then you enter a conflict mode.  If you collaborate on generating many ideas and weighing them against the objective criteria you chose together, the process will feel more fair to you and the others, and it will increase the speed with which you’ll come to an agreement.  This allows you to not look like a know-it-all but to be in an equal position to everyone else, while still making your points across.

(5)  Very important too, don’t judge other people’s needs and insist they don’t judge yours. If the other person’s concerned with face-saving, don’t discard that – engage with them by respecting that need.  If they need to feel like they have power over a decision, you can let them announce the outcome to the team for instance, which respects their need for authority while getting you the solution you want.  And so on and so forth.  Everyone has different needs.  Recognition, power, creativity, freedom, etc.  You’re not there to judge, you’re there to respectfully and harmoniously work together. In exchange – don’t let others walk over you or dismiss/question your needs.  If you need more time to generate ideas, if you need a break because you’ll catch up with the work fast anyhow once rested, if you care about fair procedures when a deicsion is made — then it’s no one’s place to judge that.  It is your need, and right, and you don’t have to necessarly justify.  Good teams respect other people’s needs.

Remember that pressuring anyone into doing anything they don’t really want to be doing will result in trouble down the line.  So be sensitive to that – better find a solution everyone will commit to than get into trouble later.


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