How to help introverted developers collaborate – 6 actions to take today

TL;DR

  1. Make space for solo work during collaborative Scrum ceremonies and workshops
  2. Space out collaborative sessions
  3. Provide autonomy
  4. Consider asynchronous developer collaboration tools
  5. Introvert/extrovert are two ends of a scale, everyone is different
  6. Be data driven by using Adadot

We are all tired of the stereotype of the introverted developer, hiding away from the world writing streams of code without ever communicating with another human being. The reality in the modern, collaborative development world is this just isn’t true (well, usually!). However, what is true is that 50% of developers identify as introverted. So, how can we help introverted developers collaborate?

What is an introvert?

There are many misconceptions about introverts, particularly in the developer community, with a typical one being that they are shy and very withdrawn. This is not necessarily true. You can in fact be incredibly outgoing whilst being introverted.

Introversion and extroversion as concepts are constantly evolving, but a common school of thought is that they relate to how people expend energy. Introverted people expend energy when collaborating with others, whereas extroverted people gain energy. So you may be a very outgoing person, but coming back from a meal with friends you find yourself feeling somewhat tired… presuming it’s not 2AM and you’ve been on the sauce, you may well be introverted.


Another insight psychologists have made into the two ends of the spectrum (and it is a spectrum) is that introverted people tend to process ideas internally, whereas extroverted people tend to process ideas externally through talking about them with others.

Now we know a bit more about what introversion actually is, how can we ensure our collaborative sessions are inclusive and engage introverted developers better?

1: Make space for solo work during Scrum ceremonies and collaborative sessions

On the premise that introverted people process ideas internally, we shouldn’t expect their best ideas to come in free flowing conversational activities. Build in periods of solo ideation during collaborative sessions,

Actionable example: In retrospectives give people time to put their thoughts down on sticky notes before speaking them through together. Silence can feel uncomfortable, but it gives people (especially introverts!) time to think. Can’t bear it? Stick on some music.


2: Space out collaborative sessions

We know that introverts expend energy when collaborating, so for maximum engagement try to space out collaborative sessions, interspersing them with time for introverted developers to go deep on some solo coding.

Actionable example: If your team does pair programming, consider a rota that ensures developers aren’t spending too long pairing on any given day. If you don’t do pair programming, you should! Read our blog on pairing here.


3: Give them autonomy

Autonomous, self organizing teams are the end state dream for many Agile development teams. When moving from a more traditional, prescriptive and waterfall environment this can feel uncomfortable, but shifting control to the individual can see significant improvements in performance. GitHub and gaming giant Valve both have staffing models where developers self-assign to projects without management input, and claim massive benefits through doing so.

Actionable example: List out all your collaborative sessions for the coming sprint during sprint planning. Ask the development team if they think all these sessions need to be collaborative, and see how they organize themselves around that. Depending on your team’s introversion/extroversion, different approaches will be equally valid. Introverted teams might benefit from less actively collaborative sessions. Measure them on the outcome at the end of the sprint, rather than their approach.


4: Synchronous versus asynchronous collab tooling

Synchronous collaboration involves real time exchange between people, such as a face to face conversation. Asynchronous collaboration involves non-real time exchange between people, such as post. You will often find that extroverts say they ‘just want to talk to someone’ when looking to solve a problem, and are likely to pick up the phone or jump on a Zoom call. However, introverts might want the space and time to think things through internally before communicating and may prefer Slack exchanges or even comments on a merge request in GitHub.

Actionable example: review your developer collaboration tools and consider if you offer ways to communicate that are both synchronous and asynchronous. Those selecting the tools a company uses are often biased to their own preferences, so if they are an extrovert, you might not have the tooling to best engage introverts in collaborative practices. Even if you do have the tools, evaluate whether it is an accepted view that asynchronous communication is beneficial. Sometimes commentary on a Git review is just as effective as ‘picking up the phone’ via Zoom.

5: People are individuals

Everyone is different.

Introversion and extroversion are not two clear cut boxes, in fact they comprise two end points on a scale, on which everyone sits in a different place. Avoid categorizing people in too clear cut a way, instead looking at each team member as an individual made up of a unique set of traits and preferences.

Actionable example: Atlassian, the giant behind Jira and Trello, have published a fantastic template for use by your team called ‘My User Manual’. The idea is that developers complete the template, stating how they prefer to communicate, their working patterns, and a host of other work preferences. They then share these in either a team session (if you’re looking to engage people synchronously!) or through posting them on a team channel in Slack or Teams.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

6: Be data driven

One key input to any team discussion around collaborative development practices should be cold, hard data. Without this we’re subject to a host of biases and mistruths. Collaboration data is notoriously hard to collate in an easy and succinct way, but when pulled together it can create a powerful starting place for discussions around how you can improve your team’s collaboration.

Actional example: Adadot provides integrations with collaboration software like Slack and pulls a wide array of data together into an easy to digest collaboration dashboard that you can review at either an individual (for yourself) or team level. When used alongside integrations with Git tools such as Gitlab, the data provided can be incredibly powerful. Give it a try for free here.

Over to you

We’ve given you six actions you can take today to help introverted developers in your team collaborate better. But don’t run off to a dark room by yourself and fire off a string of changes to your team, use them as a talking point in your next group session and tailor them to your team’s unique needs.

Just remember, give the team a break to recharge after the session 😉.

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