Why loners shouldn’t be forced to become team players

The lone wolf employee can be an asset. But they must be managed differently in order to help them thrive

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The archetypal lone wolf at the workplace isn’t very difficult to spot. Generally speaking, a loner is an individual who likes to work all by himself or herself, steers clear of interacting with co-workers, and enjoys their work more than sharing and delegating responsibility. In today’s day & age, it is widely believed that working in coordination with other people is key to success. In fact, most organisations are wary of hiring loners who stubbornly keep away from the rest of the team. Although it is a fact that loners do not thrive in team environments, it’s equally true that these are highly driven individuals who often make immense contributions to their organisations through higher levels of task completion. HR Katha spoke to HR leaders across the spectrum to find out their take on the subject of why loners shouldn’t be forced to become team players.

Assets in their Own Right

Research has demonstrated that employees who shy away from team work devote greater energy to their work tasks than team players. This is primarily because they aren’t wasting time and energy on interpersonal interactions with other teammates. It is after all no coincidence that most creators and pioneers in history have displayed signs of being loners.

“Ultimately, to work in collaboration with a team, or in isolation, is a choice of the individual and it must be respected”

Jayesh Sampat, former CHRO and senior HR leader

According to Mangesh Bhide, senior VP & Head of HR, Jio Network & Infrastructure, loners are individuals who excel in their sphere of specialization and they absolutely shouldn’t be pressurized to become team players. “Victory in a relay race is a collective team effort, yet unachievable without the contribution of the individual. Likewise, each unique contributor can also provide valuable inputs, enriching the overall output of the team” he explained.

“Loners may not have laudable social skills, but they can be real assets to any organisation” Bhide further said. “HR leaders should ensure that loners are able to co-exist in harmony with other individuals on the team. Celebrating only team efforts can potentially engender mutual disrespect” he added, warning against the dangers of glorifying teamwork at the expense of the individual worker.

Aligning Personality Type with Job Role

A pertinent point on the subject was raised by Bidisha Banerjee, senior HR Leader. Questioning the need to convert lone players into team players, she said “At the time of hiring, the talent acquisition manager should ensure that the prospective employee’s personality type is in alignment with the requirements of the job. Why should an introvert be selected for a job that calls for plenty of interpersonal interaction anyway?”
Banerjee further added that the workplace environment was essentially an amalgamation of minds, and that mutual collaboration, cooperation, and communication led to the development of cross-functional skills and understanding, enabling career growth and progress. “All the same, if the demands of a role impel an employee to display abilities contrary to their personality, it could become difficult to cope. In such situations, it is advisable that the employee and manager engage in a coaching conversation to resolve the problem” she opined.

Unavoidable Collaboration

There’s a good reason why so many job descriptions today list ‘team player’ under job requirements. This is indubitably an age of communication and collaboration marked by an inexorable element of codependence.

“Loners may not have laudable social skills, but they can be real assets to any organisation”

Mangesh Bhide, senior VP & Head of HR, Jio Network & Infrastructure

Organisations of the day are no different. While lone wolf employees may not have to like group work, it is important they develop some skills to help them navigate situations in which collaboration is unavoidable.

“Most of the work today involves a measure of interaction and interdependence” said Jayesh Sampat, former CHRO and senior HR leader. “But there are also job roles that can be performed independently” he emphasised. Sampat further added that given their innate disposition, loners gave their best when they were allowed to work independently. Therefore it was better if they took up roles that required them to work all by themselves, involving limited interaction with group members.

“Ultimately, to work in collaboration with a team, or in isolation, is a choice of the individual and it must be respected” he suggested.

Best Left Alone…

In a world where extroversion is a highly valued trait, it may be natural to assume that someone who isolates themselves from the team is a slacker, or is detached from the group’s goals. But it could also indicate an individual who is deeply focused on self-created goals and accepts complete accountability for their decisions.

“If the demands of a role impel an employee to display abilities contrary to their personality, it could become difficult to cope. In such situations, it is advisable that the employee and manager engage in a coaching conversation to resolve the problem”

Bidisha Banerjee, senior HR Leader

“My observations over the years have led me to the conclusion that if a loner’s energy levels and vibe are not in sync with the rest of the team or he/she is not exhibiting a work pattern that fits with that of the team, it only means the person doesn’t have that streak in them. Such people thrive at work when left to their own devices!” observed Bhide.

To help lone wolf employees give their best, in other words, HR leaders must manage them a little differently. Solitary reapers will be solitary reapers after all.

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