Do Introverts hate Agile?

“My team is too introverted, Agile won’t work for us.”

True, Agile does involve human interaction.  What’s not true is that introverts don’t like human interaction.  Human interaction is key to creating and executing big things.

How do we mobilize a group made up largely of introverts, to collaborate and create something together?  Is it even possible?

First, let’s examine the nature of introverts.  Introverts make up about 50% of the population, not a small minority.  An introvert as defined by Susan Cain, author of “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking”, defines an introvert as someone whose energy is drained being around people.  The reason she says is that an introvert is highly perceptive of stimulus and it’s tiring to process all that stimuli.  Extroverts, on the other hand, don’t pick up as much stimulus and therefore seek more stimuli.

The world needs both introverts and extroverts.  For example, extroverts fearlessly experiment while introverts scan for danger.  Historically, an extrovert might find new food sources, while an introvert will be more likely to sense an imminent animal attack.

Introversion is not a disease to be cured.  It’s a necessary balance for our survival and success.  So how do we leverage it, and weave it into the Agile framework?

  • Protect the introvert’s need for quiet time.  An introvert recharges with quiet. That does not mean that they don’t like to, or don’t want to, collaborate.  Look at it this way, I’m an introvert.  I love going to parties, but I’m tired when I get home.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to go, I look forward to a good party!  My extrovert friends get energy from the party and want to stay out all night.  
  • What can we do at work?  If you have a team room or an open space, make sure that there are places to retreat to work in solitude.  A noisy space is unnecessarily draining an introvert just by sitting there.  
  • Ask their opinion.  Introverts may not feel comfortable jumping into a rapid paced discussion.  Make sure to draw them out, ask what they think.  Another option is to simply create space for them to jump in.  If you don’t want to put them on the spot, just pause the discussion by saying something like “Let’s pause for a moment, I’d like to hear what others think.”
  • Let go of the ‘Extrovert Ideal’.  This goes for both introverts and extroverts.  We have what Susan Cain calls an ‘Extrovert Ideal’ in this country.  We tend to value the attributes associated with extroverts such as willingness to speak up, self-promotion and networking.  We also tend to devalue the attributes typically associated with introverts.  Just because someone is not speaking up, it doesn’t mean they don’t have something to contribute.  And as we’ve all witnessed, the reverse is true for extroverts, because extroverts think and process aloud, they often speak when they have nothing to contribute.  It’s important to understand that we need both, and not try to convert all introverts to extroverts.  I spent years learning public speaking, and forcing myself to network, and it worked, I actually test as an ambivert on behavioral tests now.  But I wonder at what cost? Stop trying to be an extrovert and double down on what you are already good at.

What has your experience been as an introvert or extrovert?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

There’s zero correlation between having the best ideas and being the best talker.
— Susan Cain