Loners in the Organization: Do You Matter in the Overall Workflow? – Workshop Tip #251

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Consider this. You spend most of your waking hours working. Day in and day out, you ensure that you deliver your tasks on time and to the best of your ability. You pride yourself on the quality of your work. It’s a routine you’ve accepted ever since you said yes to the job.

You’re a great employee, but you’re not a people-person. You tend to work alone, and some might even see you as asocial.

When we look at the social structure and entire workflow within an organization, do you really matter in the workflow? How do you know if your part, your string, is needed to connect to every other employee in your workplace? What happens if you are suddenly pulled out of the work equation?

Are You In Or Are You Out

In understanding social behavior, scientists are mindful of both the “many” (also known as the mainstream) and the “few” (also known as the loners).

Jordana Cepelewicz’s article on Out of Sync ‘Loners’ May Secretly Protect Orderly Swarms started with this statement and a question:

“Studies of collective behavior usually focus on how crowds of organisms coordinate their actions. But what if the individuals that don’t participate have just as much to tell us?”

Relating this to the Workflow Learning environment, it seems that when a worker is confronted with an issue or concern, they immediately engage within the context of their work setting. They are ready to take the initiative and full responsibility to go through four process steps:

Recalling their personal experience with the issue or concern
Consciously thinking through the issue or concern
Their need to consider others’ experiences within the work setting
Their need to consult with others within the work setting

When all of these process steps have been achieved, is it sufficient to say that the worker belongs to the “mainstream”? Or is it just as important for him/her to seek out the “loner” (non-people-person) for their observation or experience around the issue or concern? It’s a question of valuing the contributions of the loner.

The Value of Loners

Cepelewicz further cited the studies done by Corina Tarnita, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and her colleagues, on the “ubiquitous loners” and the “strategic value of staying apart”. According to this study, they recognize that “even the asocial part has a social component” and the “theoretical idea that the loner has something (to add) that stabilizes the social group.”

This work seems to suggest how collective and cooperative behaviors evolved, and how they continue to operate. Researchers may need to further study the seeming “misfits” or outsiders that don’t participate in the social group.

In Summary

We sometimes think that it is essential to always be part of and connected with the social group or team. To be a social, people-person. This is not necessarily true.

The Workflow Learning environment advocates and promotes systems thinking, holistic perspective, integrative process, and inclusive ways of connecting. In this environment, “out of sync loners” are be counted upon for the “strategic value of being apart.”

What would/could workers in the workplace do to recognize the value of “loners” in the Workflow Learning process? What practices would best support the culture of inclusive thinking, learning, and connecting in sync with Workflow Learning?


Jordana Cepelewicz (2020); Out-of-Sync ‘Loners’ May Secretly Protect Orderly Swarms

Tip #248: Learning Through Crisis – How to Harness the Power of Workflow Learning

Tip #215: Importance of Collaboration in the Workplace

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”