A few weeks ago at #ALE16 I gave a lighting talk to ask people to think about introverts in an agile world. Before I go into my idea’s I want to clarify what I consider an introvert.
For me, an introvert is a person who gets energy from spending time alone. (Doing whatever she wants.)
An extrovert is a person who gets energy from spending time with other people.
I do believe that introverts can act out extrovert behavior yet it costs them a lot of energy.
(Just like when an extrovert writes ideas down without talking, that is possible, yet it costs energy.)
That said it’s also spectrum, where people can be more or less extrovert or introvert depending on the environment they are. F ex: I think everyone in my highschool would probably call me an introvert. Where many people in the agile community could call me an extrovert. And both would be right.
Because in school for me talking to people did cost me a lot of energy. I was reading day and night (alone) and that was what brought me energy.
These days at most agile conferences, I get energy from talking to people.
I can spend almost a full night talking at a bar with agile friends, sleep less then four hours and still have energy (the fact that I don’t drink alcohol does play a role in that 😉 )
That’s why I call myself an ambivert.
Now that I have my definitions clear, let’s go back to my #ALE16 message.
Over the years I have seen our world more and more encouraging extroversion behavior.
We encourage our children in school to speak up. We have more and more group work in lots of parts of the world all encouraging extroversion.
And yes in the IT world, agile is doing it’s part of making our world more extrovert.
We want standup’s, we have retrospectives, we do lots of all hands meetings, we have pair programming, even mob programming these days. Open office plans*, all to use the power of groups.
When I look around me in the agile community, I see a lot of (great) agile coaches, and a lot of them are extroverts. At a level it feels like most of them are extroverts. That was not the result of my (short) #ale16 questionnaire. I expected 80% would say they were extrovert, and yet it was probably more like 50%.
I personally celebrate diversity. I know that some of the best scrummasters I have worked with were introverts. Yet they always had a harder time selling themselves (they hated doing that if they already saw the point in doing so…)
In IT (just like in any other world) we have lots of introverts. Somewhere between 30 and 50% of the people depending on what study you believe.
This means, that for team activities you have to take both introverts and extroverts into account.
- start by ordering Susan Cains quiet: kindle, dead tree or audible versions. (I have all three. that should tell you a message. )
- extroverts figure out what they want to say while talking. where introverts want to think things through. So how do you make them talk together?
A simple yet powerful retro-activity is this:
- Let everyone talk in the first 5 minutes: let them state one word how they feel today. (Random order gives everyone time)
- Give everyone some post it’s.
- Give everyone a few minutes to write one or more post it’s (around a theme.)
- let one person state her most important post it.
- If someone else has the same, let them give it to you
- then do a tour around the table everyone stating their most important idea.
>> this way extroverts don’t have to wait too long before talking and introverts have time to prepare and you make sure everyone talks .
If someone does not want to talk, I ask again making sure I tell them their idea’s are important, yet I do respect their choice of not wanting to talk.
That is probably more shyness than introversion, or maybe they really think they have nothing interesting to add to the conversation, yet although I know that is almost always wrong, I respect their choice. By respecting their choice, they feel heard also. And some people need to hear the message of “your choice is important” a few times before they will speak up.
This is just one way of respecting introverts. yet it’s a technique that works in every meeting. More ideas can be found in a classic work of my friend Jean Tabaka.
Her book collaboration explained was my only/most important book in the first years I worked as a coach.
It sometimes feels like a lesser known book now, yet it is for me one of the must read book for every scrummaster, product owner and agile coach.
* I don’t want to go into the discussion of Open Offices and if they are good or bad for introverts. I think the main message to share here, is that most open offices are not designed the way Open offices have been invented. When Open Office have been invented, they were surrounded by private offices, talking bubbles and even larger meeting rooms. Most Open Office I have seen, lack these features.
Thanks to Albina Popova, Gitte Klitgaard for reviewing this post.