With the industry move to agile methodologies, some more “reserved” engineers may feel like they are being left behind or pushed out of their comfort zones.  I’m talking about introverts – and they can be a challenge to merge into an open, agile team.  They may resist any such efforts, and may even seem to lose their performance edge if forced.  Is there a way to integrate introverts?

In a word, “yes”.  Introverts can, and should be, valuable members of your agile team.  These individuals possess talents that you value – otherwise they wouldn’t still be there.  Those talents need to be shared with the rest of the team and applied to the collective goals.  What you don’t want to end up with is a high-performing subject matter expert, and a sub-optimal performing team.  Your goal is to develop, nurture, and encourage a high-performing *team*.  If individual performance suffers, but the team performance improves, that is still a net positive.  The challenge is to find a way to ensure that introverts are productive and satisfied in that environment.

Minor concessions to privacy can make a huge difference.  There are plenty of people – especially in the software industry – that just don’t feel comfortable in the open floor plans conducive to agile work.  There are options that can help address this without destroying the open setting.  One option is to allow individuals to sit with their back to a wall.  While it seems simple, it really can help increase feelings of personal security and privacy.  Another is to allow employees to have one or two temporary walls so that they have some enclosure.  But, the one that I’ve seen work best is to have a period of enforced quiet/privacy time on a daily basis.  One or two hours a day where all members are left alone to work on their tasking without interruption.

Culture is really the key to making it work.  As a leader, you can set the expectation for valued behavior in your organization.  Your guidance will reinforce the way the team behaves from day to day, and will determine the way that behavior is rewarded.  Collaboration should be high on your priority list and should be honored above any individual accomplishments.   Your team should be eager and willing to share work and ideas with each other.  This behavior is actually dis-incentivized if performance appraisals (and the resulting promotions/raises/bonuses) are primarily based on individual performance.  A major component of a performance appraisal should be derived from team performance, and influenced by extensive feedback from the team.

What behavior is your organization encouraging?