Don't forget the introverts!

Carl Jung spotted the distinction between introverts and extroverts in 1921. Tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator show that about one third and a half of the population are made up of introverts.

From interviewing many people in the tech space and working in it for many years, I believe we can make an assumption there is an over representation of introverts, especially within the technical roles themselves. Not to say that everyone in tech is an introvert, far from it. Yet, anecdotally at least, it seems introverts are drawn to coding.

It makes sense, as introverts get energy from within themselves. They often enjoy time to themselves, find their best thinking occurs when they are alone, and contact with others is not as important to them. (Reference Psychology Today). All of these things are ideal for the coding environment.

However, companies these days seem to be set up with the extroverts in mind. Think open plan offices. Think agile with its overabundance of meetings. Planning, stand ups, retrospectives. Zappos with it's Wow culture is tailor made for extroverts.

Furthermore, it seems that often leaders are more likely to come from the pool of extroverts. This happens for two reasons. Firstly, extroverts are often more visible and make more of an impression as they like to spend time around people. Secondly, extroverts are more likely to put up their hand for a people leadership role, as it gives them energy. Introverts are more likely to enjoy developing deep technical expertise over dealing with people all day long.

“I have found throughout my career that the extroverts will happily become the team leader, because the introverts self select to avoid that. It means that the senior technical space ends up with deep introverts” CEO of growing NZ tech company

Therefore as a company, it is important to organise ourselves around our extroverts and our introverts. This means:

Having quiet spaces for people to recharge.

Recognise that whilst introverts can “people” very well, it can be draining and it is important to provide quiet places to recharge. It doesn’t need to be hard - a quiet couch, wearing headphones, focussed work time scheduled in the calendar, taking a 10 minute walk or sitting alone in a meeting room are just a few ideas.

Recognising leadership talent in our introverts.

Introverts are more likely to self select out of leadership roles, and conversely extroverts are more likely to put their hands up.  By defining what a good leader looks like in your organisation and scouting for leadership, you are more likely to include introverts. If you only talk to people who put their hands up, you may be missing a deep pool of talent.

Giving introverts the people skills to help them take up leadership roles.

It is a shame to bypass our talented introverts just because they prefer to “people” less than the extroverts. Communication skills are so teachable and learning specific skills can take a lot of the effort and guess work out of “peopleing”.  Introverts are often great natural listeners and with leadership, this is half the battle won. Some very effective practices to make “peopleing” less taxing include developing a standard list of powerful questions designed to get information as quickly as possible, and learning how to tailor your behaviour to different personalities.

Setting up work systems that enable people to contribute outside of meetings.

Meetings are a powerful tool within tech, in order to get the best ideas on the table, and to continually reflect and improve. However, they are based on “peopleing’ and people who find this hard are at a disadvantage. Creating supplementary systems for those people less inclined to speak out in a public forum means you can get the best from everyone. You can use systems like Slack for this, use post it notes for people to record their thoughts on, or encourage discussion in pairs before asking people to report back to the whole meeting.

“Some of our team had a real fear of speaking up in meetings, so we developed different ways to work - instead of making them speak up in meetings, we would write on post its. We also circulated the items they will touch in retrospectives so people could prepare and feel safe. If they didn’t feel safe, they could do a second round after retrospectives, and do it on slack”. People and Culture Manager, Tech Company, Barcelona.

Organising celebrations and retreats that everyone can enjoy.

When organising your Christmas party, off site or celebrations, remember to take into account all of your different personality types.

All of these approaches work best when they are “baked-in” to how you work, versus added as an oversight. Getting the best out of your introverts is a no brainer in tech. Doing so will you give you the competitive advantage as you get the most out of your diverse team.

For more detail on findings from research just get in touch -

Mel Rowsell