When an interviewer asks “do you prefer to work on a team or independently?” that does not mean they are exclusively looking for people that know how to work well with others, but also what environment you thrive in the most.
Some struggle in collaborative work situations because that is not how they are programmed to work. Here are some characteristics of that differentiate team players and individuals:
Are they a specialist?
A person who has focused on their professional craft through various levels of school or certifications, and has turned it into a career could be called a specialist. These people are confident in their work, and are usually looking for little input from those who cannot contribute new information.
Though they are headstrong in their work, these are the natural leaders in the workplace. You can always count on them to take the lead on projects, and guide those who lack the necessary knowledge. These specific, focused skillsets they wield are not as common as a general worker, so their contributions are valued much higher. They will not wait around continuing to participate in work out of their scope. It is certain they will move on to use their talents elsewhere.
Are they a general, hard worker?
The hard worker is not hard to identify. This is the employee that comes in on time, and stays on task for the majority of the day. They may not offer anything more than reliability, but they are essential to the operation.
These may not be the best people to give the biggest responsibility to, but these are certainly the ones you want to consider when forming a team. The ones that can get stuff done when asked upon are just as essential as the leader.
When the brainstorming process is taking place, this is the person who often has the most ideas. The creativity is not lost on them, but they are not the ones who are capable of executing a plan.
Are they neither?
There are outliers in every situation. Some people are simply looking for a job without the stresses of working with others. There are tasks for individuals in every workplace, so there is always a need for them.
They won’t interact much with the rest of the team, but they will focus on their own work. There is a danger to having too many of these people in an environment together, as it will be difficult to rally them together and convince them to work with others.