Agile and Introversion

Agile and Introversion

I don’t really like labels. Particularly labels which are derived from multiple-choice tests. I’m not a huge Myers-Briggs fan. Maybe it’s because those things remind me of magazines I read as an early teen that promised to tell whether you were a ‘David Essex’ or a ‘Bay City Rollers’ kind of girl. They just seem a bit over-simplistic and I have trouble thinking of a situation where the rigorous use of questionnaires, particularly for diagnostics, wouldn’t be complimented by something a bit more…well…qualitative.

I do, however, love to use them as a thinking tool. Even the questions on the ‘tests’ themselves make me think about how I (and others) perceive and interact with the world. I use them, think about them, then I throw away the classification. At the moment I’m thinking about introversion.

Ken Clyne (@kclyne) started me off on this when we pair-facilitated a session recently. He was surprised that in a recent keynote the speaker had a slide referring to “Introvert challenges” (and didn’t mean it as “here are some challenges you might encounter if you are an introvert”). We talked about how the audience would have reacted if the slide had said “Female challenges” or <insert your favourite inappropriate stereotype here> challenges.

Delving just a tiny bit deeper, I watched Susan Cain’s TED talk and began to wonder whether not only modern, western culture was biased towards extroversion, but indeed that Agile shared that same bias. We have practices like the Daily Scrum/Stand-ups, Collaborative planning, Retrospectives, all of which are highly collaborative. I occasionally see people who are new to agile really struggle with this level of collaboration.

Don’t forget  that I am at the more extreme end on collaboration – I hold a PhD in collaborative software development; One of my findings was that expert pair programmers collaborate intensely on almost every subtask they embark upon; I think (or did) that a side-benefit of team retrospectives was to have a ‘place to take a breath before sprinting again’. Ironic then, that I find myself best thinking about collaboration in a quiet room on my own. That I find conferences so exhausting that after the first day I start to get headaches and feel ‘spaced out’. That these days I favour small groups to end-of-day social events because I don’t have the band-width to continue interacting with lots of people. I can only begin to imagine how this would feel for someone much more ‘introvert’ than I.

One thought-provoking suggestion from Keith Braithwaite (@keithb_b) was “Maybe this is why ‘sustainable pace’ is both so important (introverts have recovery time) and so overlooked (by extroverts)”.

Personally, I am reflecting on how to better cater for the whole scale in both my training courses and my consultancy work. How to best provide a space for people to take a break from intensive collaboration. I’m glad that I have found I already (unwittingly) do this to some extent. I’m mad that I haven’t thought about it more deeply before.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas too.

p.s. I took two online tests, one labelled me as ‘extrovert’ and the other as ‘omnivert’ (who knew?!). Of course it’s possible/likely that doing the first test influenced my responses on the second.



  1. Hi Sallyann,

    Great post on Agile and Introversion!

    I have a high coefficient of introversion (I’ve found The Enneagram a useful tool for assessing that) but no experience in Pair Programming.

    Unfortunately, the non-disclosure stipulation of my current project precludes using it as the basis for exploring this fascinating paradigm.

    But now that you’ve piqued my interest in Pair Programming, I’ll have to find a project on which to give it a try!


    1. Thanks Joel, glad you enjoyed reading it.
      I hope you find somewhere to have a go at pair programming, and if so, that you’ll get back in touch to let us know how it went.



  2. My interpretation of all the ‘extrovert’ practices labeled as Agile practices are all made up to counteract the innate introvert behavior. In most work places I’ve been people tend to avoid group interaction and work alone (headphones on). Even most managers and CEOs I would not label extrovert, their strength is often one-on-one interactions.

    In my mind the focus on team/group/sharing (including pair-programming) is not a Western thing, otherwise more people would be doing it. Retrospectives cause friction because most people are not used making things public and explicit, in my experience with different cultures, they all (expect the Spanish) have trouble being extrovert for different reasons.

    1. Hi Machiel,

      Thanks for your comment.
      I’m not sure that I agree that ‘extrovert’ agile practices are “all made up to counteract the innate introvert behaviour”. I think they are there to serve a bunch of purposes and I struggle to think of the Agile Manifesto being forged on the basis of forcing everyone to behave more like extroverts. At the same time, I think this may be a side effect of some of them and I still believe deeply in the power of involving the right people and ‘making sure all voices are heard’.

      I don’t know if the focus is a Western thing, only that the Modern Western World is the one I live in, so I feel ill-equipped to comment on others. For example, I lived in Thailand for a year at one point and I think there was a difference culturally around introversion/extroversion, but I’d have a hard time expressing that more clearly. Plus could be that my experiences are only valid for the one (very small) island on which I lived.

      Thanks again, I really appreciate your comment – it made me think 🙂



    1. Hi Karina,

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      That’s a great article. Fascinating. I was particularly intrigued by this statement: “Agile makes cooperation of socially withdrawn or anxious people easier, as they can rely on visual communication and tracking more than on in-person data presentation and direct engagement in face-to-face communication”.

      First of all, I’m not sure we know that it’s true. Or at least that there is evidence beyond the anecdotal.

      Second I see some people struggling with the very high level of inter-personal collaboration in Agile.

      I definitely feel that visual tools for communication and tracking go some way to help people who are more introverted etc. However I’m not sure we can sweepingly suggest that “Agile makes cooperation of socially withdrawn or anxious people easier”. Not the one hand the collaboration is more intense and therefore may be more troubling, on the other there are visual tools to help.



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