An introvert’s guide to collaboration

Main illustration: Laura Bohill

Collaboration is highly valuable within any company. It allows teams to move quickly on a project, make faster decisions and it helps people from different teams stay on the same track.

Something I’ve learned is that you have to master collaboration in order to progress your career and become the best at what you do. As an introvert, this has been one of my biggest challenges.

Luckily I’ve found myself in a position whereby as a Product Researcher, I get to spend a large chunk of time thinking deeply while I synthesise data or work on a report. I also have to continually push myself out of my comfort zone when I’m interviewing users or carrying out usability testing. Win-win situation right? Well, not all the time.

In situations where collaboration is needed (and valued) on a project, it can be hard to pull yourself out of the why-can’t-we-do-this-over-email mindset. Jumping from a “safe space” of focus to being in a room filled with people who all want to get their point across can be draining. I’ve left some meetings where I feel totally exhausted and look across the room and see other folks invigorated.

Not to be deterred or feel downtrodden by the fact that some teammates can partake in collaboration a lot more easily than me, I decided to be proactive and work on it!

Caveat: This is a work in progress. I’m still actively learning to collaborate as I go but I decided to share some tips for those of you who find collaboration highly rewarding (but hard to do!).

Make sure it’s meaningful

Nobody wants to be in an unnecessary meeting so make sure your interactions with teammates are authentic. Don’t waste their time with a face-to-face session where the team are essentially “circling the drain” over a problem and don’t come to any great conclusion. A way of ensuring this happens is to use a quick checklist before proposing a collaborative session:

  • Can this decision or next step be made by me alone?
  • What are the risks of making this decision alone?
  • Would this decision or next step benefit from other perspectives or ideas? Why?
  • What teammates do I need to add this to this session?
  • What will they bring to the session?

Have clearly defined goals

Start at the end and figure out what you want to get out of each session. By setting an agenda, you set clear objectives. This will help you to mentally prepare for what’s coming up. It’s also just a good way to run any meeting since they can be expensive. ?

Some super-simple checklist items you can use are:

  • What do I want to get out of this meeting?
  • What are the top three topics I want to cover?

If you can, plan*

The best results often occur from unexpected, face-to-face collaboration e.g where a group of people get into a room to figure out ways to solve a hard problem. This is fantastic and what should be strived for in any company, but for an introvert it can be pretty draining when this happens.

The best way to be proactive about this is to spot opportunities early-on in a project that could benefit from more collaboration. From a research perspective, this usually means I plan ahead of time for any kick-off meetings, research plan run-throughs, general project catch-ups and debriefs. I then try to get these meetings into people’s calendars as early as possible so that I can mentally prepare for them.

Some other things I do are:

  • Try to predict the questions that will be asked in the meeting
  • Jot down the main goals of the meeting in my notepad so it doesn’t derail

I’ve found this planning to really help when you’ve got a day (or week) filled to the brim with meetings. Doing this leg work early on also helps to keep the amount of context switching you do to a minimum.

*Sincere apologies for the Johnny Cochran-esque title.

Get your point across

When you’re an introvert in a room filled with BIG voices, it can be hard to actually get your point across. Early on in my career I really struggled with this and I got a great tip from my manager Sian (who by the way is the ultimate wealth of knowledge ?). She asked me to write down the top three things (usually research insights) that I wanted to communicate in a meeting where there were multiple people present. The aim was then to get at least one of those points across by the time the meeting ended.

As I diligently practiced this in every big meeting I attended, suddenly I went from getting one point across to three. Then five. Then I noticed I was speaking out in meetings without even needing to write anything down.

Practicing this gave me so much more confidence in what I was saying and it’s been pivotal in how I communicate today.

Make collaboration work for YOU

No matter what industry you work in, you’re going to work with folks that strive for more collaboration from you. And that’s perfectly fine. However, it’s important that you don’t try and completely change the way in which you work for someone else. It’s imperative that you take feedback like this on board and learn from it but always treat working relationships as a two-way street. Talk to these people and try and come to a mutual understanding. Find out what motivates them to want to collaborate more and share the processes that work best for you.

Being introverted shouldn’t be a reason why you don’t get as far in your career as your extroverted peers. Remember, everyone has different working styles and this should be embraced, especially when it comes to collaboration.

If anyone has tips, tricks and processes that work for them around this topic, I’d love to hear them. ?