The Team and Introverts

I have several friends who are introverts.  And, as I get older, I recognize my own introvert side. And I appreciate it more, and accept it more. (The MBTI says I am an extrovert.)  It is to one introvert friend that I dedicate this post, a friend who has given me so many insights into people, and is the person I know who is most insightful about people.

One of the issues with Scrum is that the people in the “team” do not feel and act as a Team.
This lack of a sense of being a real Team is often key to why a Scrum implementation may be mediocre.

(And let me go further. One of the great values of Scrum is that allows people, if they want to, to have great working relationships, honest and productive ones, with a small group of people. In a very satisfying way. Srum won’t make it happen, but Scrum tries to facilitate it happening. And it happens often. Better relationships with more fun. So, we are also in search of this.)

There are many root causes for this problem (the lack of a sense of being in a real Team).

One of the root causes is that the team members may include both extroverts and introverts.   Now, as such, having both introverts and extroverts on a Team is not the real problem. But let me discuss….

A good discussion of these two types is here.

As I typically see it, extroversion is dominant in North American society, and perhaps yet more so in US society.  Business managers tend to be extroverts, for example.

Fairly often, in a Scrum team, both the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster are extroverts.  And fairly often, most of the other team members are introverts.  At work in software development, introversion tends to mean being quiet, slower to explain, less interruptive in conversational style, and not explaining or sharing many things that one is thinking or feeling.

So, just from what I have said, you can see that extroverts and introverts have a good chance to see the Team differently.  Of course, any two people can see the Team differently, but an extrovert and an introvert, being less likely to explicitly talk about it, are more likely to remain with differences after some time. Or more differences.

Now, contrary to what some people think, introverts do not always like to be alone.  They like and enjoy friendships with people they know well.  But they tend to want to manage their ‘together’ time and their ‘alone’ time in a different way than an extrovert would.

Similarly, introverts tend to take longer to ‘get to know’ the other team members (if they didn’t before). And tend to not ‘open up’ in the Team until they have ‘gotten to know’ them all.

Also, some strong introverts are more likely never to have been on a good Team before. For example, they may not have been on a successful sports team.  This can of course happen with an extrovert too, but I think it is somewhat less likely.  If you do not have the tacit knowledge of a good Team, it is harder to assist in forming a good Team.


My conclusions from experience:
* Both extroverts and introverts can form good teams.  And can do so together.
* Introverts tend to form as a Team more slowly.  This delay is not a hugely significant factor, except that it must be respected.
* Extroverts tend not to understand the dynamics of team formation for introverts.
* Extroverts tend to not appreciate that their own talkative qualities are felt as intrusive and impolite by introverts. (Similarly, introverts may fail to appreciate how their behavior or quietness can be perceived by extroverts.)
* Some of the Scrum and agile ideas and practices can seem intrusive to introverts, especially if forced too much and not explained well. And if no accommodations are considered for introverts.
* Addressing these issues may take some time and effort, but it is well worth it. When extroverts and introverts appreciate each others’ qualities, it can lead to a much stronger Team very quickly.

Again, people who have been in a good Team can appreciate that there is something magical about it. Joyful, fun, fulfilling. In part, it is the satisfaction of doing good work together. However you describe it, it is a good thing. And we want everyone, of whatever type, to experience this part of life in a better way. We think it is possible for almost everyone.


« « Agile Principles and Values || Release Planning: Business Value » »

Tagged: Tags: , , , ,

3 thoughts on “The Team and Introverts

  1. Jessie

    Well what i know about team work is that without good work organization you can’t do much. I was working myself in corporation that had many different employees. We had different opinions and we couldn’t always agree. I wanted to be more organized so i started to us it was very good decision. I was pretty sceptical at first but then i told my team to use it because of realtime tasks. It improved our work and tbh after some nice projects that we manage to complete very fast people started to think and listen to each other so i think organization is number one for successfull projects 🙂

  2. Kevin Warner

    It’s now 2017 (4-5 years after this article on “The Team and Introverts” was written. And it looks like the author and his acquaintences hadn’t read the well researched work by Susan Cain – “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”. If they had read the research, they would have known what the research shows about introverts and extroverts as leaders. The chapter in Susan’s book titled “The Myth of Charismatic Leadership” points out that introverts are much more successful as leaders of teams where the team members take the initiative to engage (because they are much more likely to listen to team member ideas than extroverts are). Extroverts are more effective leaders of teams where the members are passive and not engaged (because extroverts initiate so often that their team’s ideas are not listened to so the team becomes passive if it wasn’t already passive). Scrum/Agile seeks to have a team where all of the team members are allowed to engage and have their ideas and contributions listened to and welcomed. The research shows that extroverts are much less often good at listening because their style is to be the one talking and initiating while others listen and follow. So the shift to Scrum / Agile really needs to help extroverted team members and leaders change their habit of taking center stage as often. Introverted Scrum Masters are more likely to lead the engaged team to success through implementation of the teams ideas and efforts.

  3. Joe Little Post author

    Hi Kevin,
    I like your comments.
    What you say makes me think that we know, really, very little about human beings.
    For example, we don’t agree on what an introvert is. (Not so much you and I, but people do not agree.)
    And, while it is briefly useful to categorize people as introverts or extroverts, it is really more complex than that. And people are complex.
    What you said makes some sense to me.
    Let me re-read now what I said long ago, and see if I some changes are in order.
    What I still find very true: some people work well in teams quite easily. Others, not so much. For those who do not, some period of adjustment or education or coaching can help them become, really, very good team members. I also think there are some people who will never be good in a team. I think some of those ‘non-team players’ could be classified (by someone) as extrovert and some would be classified as introvert.

Leave a Reply