In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain talks about an increasing emphasis on teamwork called the New Groupthink.
The New Groupthink is the idea that teamwork goes above everything. Creativity and intellectual achievement are born from a stimulating environment. Without group work or group thinking, there won’t be innovation. Everything must be social.
That’s great but there are flaws in this kind of work culture.
The popularity of the New Groupthink
This new way of building teams gained popularity in the early 90s when many corporations organized their workers to work in teams. The managers in these corporations believed that teams are key to success. In remote work, there are skype calls and slack chats and frequent “quick” webcam meetings. Everything involves working together.
The workplace nowadays involves doing everything face-to-face nonstop. This comes in the form of face-to-face interaction like meetings, team-building exercises, retreats, shared calendars, office birthday parties, and after-work happy hours.
There’s almost no privacy. Your office is set up so that you can see your co-worker’s computer from the corner of your eye and you can hear the music coming out of their headphones.
This kind of office organization is called the open floor plan. You probably worked in one or are currently in one.
The New Groupthink in the classroom
The New Groupthink practice is also in schools in a form of cooperative or small group learning. In elementary schools, rows of individual desks and chairs facing the teacher have been replaced with “pods” of four or more desks facing each other.
Learning is done with the other students instead of the teacher doing all the work.
This classroom group learning approach has a theory that says students take ownership of their education when they learn from one another. It also trains them to work in teams. A useful skill to have in corporate America.
The origins of the New Groupthink
Where did the idea of the New Groupthink come from? One force was the start of the world wide web. If you look at sites like Wikipedia and Github (open source for software developers), the information on these sites is a result of people crowdsourcing ideas and sharing wisdom.
Those ideas often bring about innovation.
People saw that collaboration equated to success.
This was during a time when open office spaces were uncommon but as collaboration brought on by the internet bled its way into the public space, companies were changing their offices to encourage collaboration.
The problem is, the asynchronous and anonymous interactions of the internet may not work well in a noisy busy office space.
The problem with the New Groupthink
The online world is a giant brainstorming session but the brainstorming session wouldn’t exist without the solo efforts of everyone involved. You are working in a group but at the same time, you are working alone.
The power of online collaboration looked so effective that people thought it would be a good idea to do the same in a public environment.
That didn’t work out.
People ignore the individual parts (the solo efforts) and instead put all the effort into the group as a whole by bringing everyone together face-to-face.
Within your group, you either have:
The social loafer
The person that sits back and lets everyone do all the work.
The production blocker
The person that wants to do all the work their way and brings out the majority of the ideas while everyone sits passively and is handed tasks to do.
The fearful one
And then there’s the person that is simply afraid to do anything for fear of looking stupid.
Companies want to mimic internet interaction in an open office plan.
Personality types and teamwork
While extroverts attain leadership in public domains. Introverts take on leadership in a private setting. While they are alone, they use tools like the internet. The internet allows them to come together with other like-minded people to take on a different way of problem-solving. Problem-solving through online interaction and collaboration. No large office spaces needed. They want their ideas and their contributions to be seen by a larger audience and by a community they valued.
Odd enough, the extroverts came in to take the introvert-friendly version of collaboration and made their own in a public space that makes it a pain for introverts to work effectively in.
Fixing the New Groupthink problem with private and personal spaces
Ok, there’s a problem with group work. What could be a solution?
An idea is to create an office setting the allows people to interact but also allows for one to go back into their private work station to focus and work alone. These “flexible” open plans have a mix of solo workspaces and a casual open work environment.
One example is Microsoft. Many employees have their own private offices that also come with sliding doors and movable walls. This allows for the offices to be open to collaboration and also allows for privacy.
These flexible office plans work well for both the introvert and the extrovert. Everything is not open and public but not everyone is hunkering down in their cubicle caves.
You can walk into the open space to meet and speak with other co-works and then retreat back to your private office when needed to get the real work done.
While there isn’t anything wrong with creating a work culture around collaboration as long as it caters to the gregarious extroverts to the quiet introverts and everyone in between.