The Team and introverts

Thomas Edison, an introvert.

I love introverts.  Some of my best friends are introverts.

First, it may help to define the terms.  Introverts gain energy with quiet time; extroverts gain energy being with people.  See, for example:   To me, neither term is in favor or out of favor.

I have been talking a lot lately about the importance of the Team.  That the team, as Alexander Dumas put it, be “all for one and one for all.”  That everyone on the team is pulling for team success and not so much for individual success.  That everyone on the team recognizes that only team success is important.  That everyone recognizes that creating and sharing knowledge is better than relying on the knowledge or ability of one person.

And then, I was in a class last week, and I tried to describe this to an introvert.  Specifically, the idea of pairing.  He heard it as: he had to work 6 to 8 hours per day with someone else.  He was visibly upset.  I am guessing that he is an introvert.

So, I do think that creating knowledge together as a team is the most important thing the team does.

And we must respect the introverts.  This is not so hard, usually.  First, once introverts bring other team members within their tighter universe, then they can actually work with them for lengthy periods each day.  Second, we do not need to do knowledge creation in a group of 7 or even a group of 2 during all hours of the working day.  We have to respect that each person is unique.  So, we have to respect the introverts’ needs.  Just as we expect them to respect the needs of the other team members, and of the overall team.

I think many a ScrumMaster would do well to help assure that introverts, and their needs, are respected better in our firms and by the managers.  Done well, this will enable the team to become more effective (eg, for the customers and for the firm).

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4 thoughts on “The Team and introverts

  1. Addinquy

    A really interesting topic, even if I'm not sure to share completely your point of view.
    First of all, I'm the kind of guy who tell to his team that only the team success matter. Individual success (or failures) don't. I think you share this point of view. And this one is important, even at the heart of the agile state of mind. Agile is not about practices or techniques. It's about acting as a team, with different peoples, different strengths, working together in the same direction. Because we act together, some members complement so other weaknesses, therefore the team is stronger. Again I think you agree with me.
    Third, yes all idea doesn't emerge from collective brainstorms. Very often, the best or most creative ones come from one mind in isolation. But even there, this leads nowhere if this person is unable to share their thoughts. The "hard core introvert" will fail here.
    An introvert (a real one) just left my team few month ago, after 5 months. He was obviously uncomfortable with the need to talk to other members on a day to day basis. I think he talk to me about 10 minutes in 5 months (less than a regular team member in a day) and never said anything in planing meeting, demo or retrospective. Of course, mking him pairing wasn't an option. I'm pretty sure he is very clever. And I expect some good would remain after these 5 months. But week after week, I thrown away his contribution (the stuff didn't fit with what we do, or simply duplicate other work). Today, nothing remains of what this guy bring.
    OK, this is an extreme introvert. And it was my mistake to bring him in the team. I should admit there's a shade of gray in what we call "introvert" and probably this is what we are talking about.
    Yes we should take advantage of individual thinking. I perform myself A LOT of individual thinking. But I never miss to share and discuss the valuable ones with my team. Brillant introverts unable to share with others and work with others, doesn't fit the team. I don't want them, whatever how brillant they are.

  2. Joe Little

    Hi Addinquy,

    Excellent comments. I may agree with everything you said. (smile, slightly disappointed…smile)

    I think my main point is that we must learn to respect individual differences. We are all unique, and I think that is mostly a wonderful thing.

    But, as you say, Scrum (and much of life) is a team sport. We all have to also learn to work with the team. And the team cannot sacrifice itself for one team member. As you said.

    Perhaps there are some of us who have not found our team yet. Or who maybe won't ever (or at least yet) play well with a team. I think those people can find a good life working alone. Or working with a few other people willing to accommodate their unique ways. But I think I agree that their way of working is not likely to be Scrum. Or at least, not Scrum as I am used to playing it.

    Highly brilliant people. There are a bunch of stories about 'highly brilliant people' in the Scrum community. The usual experience is that once that brilliant person (not a team player, although perhaps highly verbal) was taken off the team, the team velocity (real productivity) went up a lot. Perhaps this also fits your experience. You can guess from the way I said it that my thought is that these 'brilliant' people were more brilliant in their own mirrors than in reality, although to be fair, they typically are the smartest, most verbal person on the team. Just not THAT much smarter than everyone else.

    In any case, thanks for sharing your ideas. Enjoyed reading them.


  3. Dave Smith

    You may have misinterpreted the introvert, and by not asking further, you missed an important nuance. From personal experience and observation, extreme introverts don't pair well with extreme extroverts. When you introduced the idea of pairing, it's quite possible that your introvert jumped right to a horrific mental image of being tied at the hip with someone Who. Won't. Stop. Talking. For an introvert, sitting next to continuous babble is Hellish. It shatters any attempt at thought. An extrovert paired with an introvert can cancel out the introvert. For an extrovert, it's not even noteworthy–it's just thinking out loud. And as a coach, it's on you to understand the distinction, and the subtleties, and coach both sides. When you introduce pairing with a live exercise, pair like types.

    I'm an extreme introvert (I peg 'I' on the MBTI), and yet I've paired quite successfully for years. How? Pairing with other introverts isn't an issue. With extroverts, there may be some coaching (of the extroverts) involved. The idea that thinking out loud can be destructive to your partner's thinking is a new and strange thought to many talkers. Most can adapt, agreeing to some signal that means 'please be quiet'. Those who don't, I arrange to work with from a safe distance.

    The most successful and effective XP team I worked with took it to an extreme. We were all introverts, or somewhere in between. We did our own recruiting and hiring, and would screen out extreme extroverts. It didn't matter if they were good. Introducing a talker would have spoiled the team chemistry. And we managed to pull off 8 hour days of pairing. We might got home exhausted, but we got a lot of high-quality work done.

    If the mix goes the other way, and you have a sole introvert in an Agile team of unrepentent extroverts, I don't know. It might be best for the introvert to seek saner working conditions elsewhere.

    The comment above touches on the challenges introverts have in meetings. When the conversation is dominated by extroverts, introverts wait in vain for a chance to get their thoughts lined up and present them without interruption. In many teams, that time never comes, especially when the manager is an extrovert who switches subjects quickly. The best way I've seen to deal with this is to introduce the "8 count" before switching subjects. Once the talking on one subject subsides, don't switch to the next topic until there's been 8 seconds of silence. You'll find, to your possible surprise, that about 7 seconds in, the introverts will decide that it's safe to talk, and will add something valuable to the discussion.

  4. Joe Little

    Hi Dave,

    Excellent comment. I agree with everything you said. Sorry my post seemed to suggest to you that I did not (or might not).

    My main POV is that both (introverts and extroverts) need to understand and respect each other. Just because the other person is different does not mean they are bad. But it is perhaps likely in the US (esp) that extroverts think 'things should be my way' and tend to be less understanding than the other way around. As a generality.

    Anyway, over the course of a project, with all the different things that happen and people to deal with, I think both sides bring important things to the table.

    Lately I have been working with some introverts. And I find them extremely insightful and observant. Quiet, yes. But the insights are brilliant. Whether this is a personal thing (the specific people) or an introvert thing (or tendency) is less clear to me. My hypothesis is a bit of both.

    I like your 8 count rule. I will try to remember to use that. I hope you will make other suggestions on ways we all might work with, well, introverts in your case.

    BTW, on Myers Briggs I am said to be an extrovert, but I think it is untrue. I think I am more in the middle. Clearly, to me, there are days I feel noticeably introverted, and days I feel somewhat extroverted. Anyway, I have friends who are both.

    Thanks again.

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