The Productivity Curse – ‘Groupie’ or Loner? Knowing the Difference makes all the Difference

Have you ever wondered why it is that some staff just thrive on the interaction of a busy workplace where people are coming and going around them all the time, while others need to shut the world out in order to get things done? Group Environments

Knowing the different motivational patterns of either types of people can make a world of difference to having a productive team and a happy team. Here’s why… 

Let me explain it this way.

Joe is one of those gregarious types who just loves the interaction of social contact in the workplace. He thrives on the hubbub that surrounds him when he sits down to work at his desk. Colleagues coming and going all the time with questions for him to answer or his input to canvass don’t seem to bother him at all. Nor does the odd wisecrack or quick social ‘catch-up’ to break the monotony of a busy day. It seems that he is able to re-focus his concentration to where he left off the moment he returns to his work. To Joe it’s all part of the enjoyment of working in a relaxed and interactive atmosphere. Outside of work he’s known as the ‘life of the party.’ It almost seems that the open plan workspace was a concept designed specifically for the Joes of this world. If you were Joe’s manager you might be heard to say that “Joe is a real team player.” And no matter what level of social interaction Joe engages in, each of his days are productive with all of his important tasks completed before he leaves for home.

Individual EnvironmentsLarry, on the other hand, is almost the opposite of Joe. He is quiet and studious, and gets that look of annoyance on his face the moment that anyone interrupts him in the middle of his work. Larry’s your “head down, bottom up and door closed” kind of person who believes that people come to work for a reason, which is to work and not to play around, especially if it requires deep levels of concentration. All Larry wants, is to be left alone to do his work and he will produce the goods with a minimum of fuss, day in day out. If you were Larry’s manager you might be heard to say that “Larry is a real workhorse… no fuss, no drama… we hardly know he’s there.” And at the end of each day, Larry can also be relied upon to ‘produce the goods.’

So which of these two would you prefer for your workplace, Larry or Joe?

Before you immediately go out and try to clone either Larry or Joe depending on your particular bias, I recommend that you be very careful where you physically place either Larry or Joe in your work environment, or chances are that you will have an unproductive Larry who brings down team morale or an unproductive Joe who disrupts team harmony, within your midst.  Here’s the clue to the puzzle.

You see, Joe is someone who prefers to work in a Group Environment. He likes social contact at work. He can quite easily work without being distracted while surrounded by people. He will thrive in an environment that requires a lot of people contact, and he’ll no doubt be described by others as a ‘team player’ due to his gregarious nature. So where will his productivity really suffer? If you locate him in any secluded space where he is away from all the action, most likely he will get bored or unmotivated. And if he is in an office on his own, before too long he will be out of that office engaging with others. Not only will Joe be unproductive on his own, but his need for social interaction will mean that he may also disrupt other members of your team and their level of productivity too.

Larry is at the other end of the scale. He prefers to work in an Individual Environment. Larry likes to work alone, preferably with the door closed in order to concentrate, which is not always easy to do in these days of open plan work environments. You can no doubt guess where his productivity will suffer. Worse still, because Larry has that ability to get work done without needing people around him, he may lead others to feel uncomfortable around him due to his lack of communication in a team setting or an open structure.

If you notice productivity suffering with individuals within your team, look more closely into the type of work they do and the environments in which they seem to be most effective and most productive. Before judging them too quickly or harshly as disruptive, or unproductive, or not a team player, consider supporting them according to their work environment preferences. This does not mean to say that you have to build a secluded office just for Larry or knock down the walls just for Joe, but it may mean that re-locating Larry on the very edge of an open space environment and encouraging him to book out a meeting room when he is working on anything that requires heavy concentration may increase both his productivity and his sense of wellbeing at work. Ask him questions like… “What kind of environment do you need in order to focus or concentrate?”

And with Joe, be careful not to give him work that requires long periods of time on his own or you may find that it results in an unproductive and uncooperative person. Ask him questions like… “Where do others need to be involved?” and “Who do you like to be around in order to get this done?”

Some time ago, I observed a great example of this with a client who had a teenager who was into their final, critical years of schooling. Even though the parents had set up a special ‘study space’ in the confines of their child’s bedroom and expected to see evidence of concentrated work being done whenever the bedroom door was closed, invariably their child drifted out of the room soon after settling in for quiet study time and engaged with other members of the family around the house. And yet whenever the student was located in the middle of a busy kitchen working on the kitchen table with all of the noise and activity swirling around them, they completed their school assignments unaffected by the distractions. After I had completed a profile of their child for my client and pointed out how their child’s productivity and study effectiveness relied upon engagement and peripheral involvement and not quiet, solitary time, the penny dropped for them. From this point on the student was no longer being critiqued as having poor study habits, based on the parents’ expectation. Moreover, the student thrived in any study atmosphere where they engaged in projects as part of a study group with their peers, which involved lots of social interaction and noise (read ‘music’) and lively discussion, but also heaps of team based productivity.Study Groups

And while Group vs Individual Environment are just two of a kaleidoscope of forty eight individual motivational patterns in total and should not be assessed in isolation for any individual, just knowing about these two alone brings a new level of insight to the theories around workplace environment and productivity. Even with my own two primary school aged children I see the differences in work habits already, which has been confirmed to me by their teachers at school also. Both children are in opposite camps of ‘Group vs Individual’ even though they come from the same seeds and have grown up in the same environment with the same parents.

It’s what makes the study of people in the workplace so interesting.

Drop me an email to if you would like to know more about productivity in the work place.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less.  Have a great week – Brian

Precision Profiling – What Makes You Tick?  Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your staff.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here

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