Your introvert is showing
Introversion versus extroversion has been a hot topic over the past few years, especially since the release of Quiet by Susan Cain. In IT it is no different. Everyone knows the stereotype of the “typical developer” – the one who only wants to sit in their cube and code by him or herself all day. But it’s just that, a stereotype, based on some facts but not true for all. So how are we more inclusive of that person in Agile where collaboration, co-location, and teamwork are valued over solitude? Secondly, how do we encourage introverts to be leaders which is historically and stereotypical a role for extroverts?
As a ScrumMaster, a leadership position (though more servant and authentic leadership versus appointed leadership), some people are generally surprised to find out that I consider myself an introvert. I think I’m an INTJ on the Myers Briggs and though I am closer to the middle between extrovert and introvert, I find I have more introverted tendencies. Large groups stress me out though I do not have problems presenting to them. On the other hand, I often need to force myself to speak up in large meetings, especially when I’m not comfortable with the people or the subject matter. I really like alone time in my cube to reflect – I don’t particularly enjoy being in a team room or meetings all day (though that is often what my job calls for). I’d much rather IM or email than talk to someone on the phone or even in person sometimes (though that may be a generational thing).
Strategies to Try
I can certainly empathize with the stereotypical developer and the want to have time alone to think and reflect. In a world where teamwork, togetherness, and collaboration rules though, this is difficult. Often we need to force ourselves to step out of our comfort zone to make those connections and be an integral participant on the team. This transition takes time, though. It can’t be expected to happen all in one day when the company decides to adopt Agile practices. It’s about slow adjustment and compromise.
For example – sitting in the team room for 2 hours each day and spending the rest of the day coding alone. Spending 1 hour pair programming and 1 hour in backlog grooming or sprint planning and taking the rest of the day to be productive solo. Not every day will look like this, but it’s a place to start. By setting realistic goals, it gives the team something to shoot for that will be a stretch but not so much that it will lead to an overwhelming meltdown and an unsustainable pace.
Some other interactions to think about are in retrospectives when I have often been encouraged to call people out if they do not speak. This is something that I like to take time to get to know people personally before doing (which is obviously difficult in a consulting/training environment when you are in and out quickly and may not get that chance). Take note of how someone reacts when you call on them – were they not paying attention or were they just thinking? What does their body language tell you? Are they shifting uncomfortably? Blushing? Looking away from you? If so, maybe they would prefer a retrospective where things are written on post-it’s instead. If that is not a choice, try to pull the person aside on a break and encourage them to participate – it’s not that introverts do not want to or are too horribly shy, usually they are just trying to formulate the answer they want to give. The important this is not to force everyone to participate every time, but to let everyone know their participation is valued, welcomed, and expected as part of the team.
Strategies to Avoid
I do not advocate for Myers Briggs profiles to be posted on cube walls because that can have the opposite effect. I feel this may encourage people to play into the stereotypes of introvert and extroverted tendencies and their behaviors may inaccurately reflect how the person sees themselves or prefers to work. Also, do not call a person out as shy or an introvert – this will do the same thing. So often introversion is associated with negative traits, when really it’s just different than extroversion. Many introverts try to be more extroverted to hide their traits in public because of this incorrect connotation of being antisocial.
Also, do not assume that introverts cannot be good leaders because they do not speak up or are “shy.” People that do not take the leadership track do so often because they are not interested in it, not because they are inept to do so (though some might be). Leadership is not a calling for everyone and should not be the only criteria looked when judging if someone is smart or successful. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life trying to be a leader – sometimes I do well, sometimes I do not, but it has nothing to do with being an introvert. It’s more about my social awareness and maturity in certain situations – that gets into me still growing up, learning, and experiencing.
Also, I encourage you not to force everyone to speak in every meeting. It reminds me of when I was an intern and we were put in front of important company leaders. We were told to have questions ready, but asking a question for the sake of asking a question seemed counter productive to me. It did not seem genuine and you could tell who was asking canned questions they didn’t really care about having answered versus who had thought out a meaningful question they actually were interested in. Forceful participation can have the opposite effect, just ensure you have an open and welcoming environment and again check the body language and dialogue.
Get to the point…
To continue to get the best people into leadership, we need to diversify personality traits as well as physical traits. Everyone who is interested should be encouraged and given the opportunities to lead. Some people are better at finding and taking them while others may need more help. By remaining aware of the differences in communication and work preferences, we need to ensure we do not exclude people but are as inclusive as they allow us to be. Everyone does what makes sense to them and it’s our job as leaders and good humans to understand that and make sense of it to ourselves.