Introvert or extrovert: teaming people up is always a challenge

This blog post contains my own personal opinions and observations

In all my years as a Scrum Product Owner, I’ve had the chance to be part of dozens of teams, and I should say that no group is ever the same. Although, the businesses I dealt with could have been the same, most of these teams weren’t similar at all. What gives a team its identity is the complex combination of the team members’ personalities, working cultures, and all the factors presented by the environment, where they are inserted. To find the same precise setup twice would be very improbable, and learning how to use my previous experience to deal with a new group in order to respond to the business demands, has always turned into a very interesting challenge.

One of the most relevant ways for me to categorize teams I’ve worked with is related to how introverted or extroverted they are. While introvert groups have usually been less socially inclined, on the other hand, they have been more easy-going and flexible. They have not questioned business needs a lot, they might have challenged me in the technical field, but, in the end, they have followed my lead and just did the work. Extrovert teams, on the contrary, have always been hungry for a good business discussion, they have placed firewalls around my requests “for the sake of completeness and understanding”, but may have gotten off-track at some point, losing their focus and going beyond the scope I originally had in mind. Depending on the nature of the work, one group could prove to be more resourceful than the other, but none of the extremes are optimal in every situation, I found.

What is the ideal team, then? The obvious answer would be perhaps “half introverted, half extroverted”, but this is a very tricky balance to manage. Hybrid teams tend to malfunction, and in most cases I’ve observed, people from the two different groups didn’t get along, unless I provided both of them with a suitable routine. For example, extroverts tend to highjack my sessions, and this has lead introverts on my team to dive into their own worlds and drift away from the topic. I find it important to keep the introverts in the loop, explicitly asking for their opinions, and sometimes even mediating the discussion for extroverts, to open some space and listen to both groups. Cooperative practices, such as pair programming and feedback-giving, have been a hassle for the introverts I’ve known, while assigning them with an ownership of a time-consuming “late evening pizza ordering” task would sound like paradise.

I take these differences constantly into account and highlight them during a sprint, from planning, to retrospective. As the Product Owner, I am aware of them, strive to act accordingly, adapt, and be flexible.

Whenever you have the chance to join a new team as a Product Owner and need to determine the nature of this new team, I ask myself questions like:

  • How much is my team willing to join the extra refinement and story mapping sessions?
  • How much are they dependent on a story thoroughness?
  • How hard is it for them to drop stories and change the scope for a sprint?

With the observations centered around these questions, I have learned a lot about how to deal with groups, and what gaps I should cover. If a team is predominantly introverted, for example, I had to put extra effort into communication, inside and outside the group. When a team was mostly extroverted, Scrum sessions became energy-consuming. My piece of advice would be to sleep well the night before and get a nice Definition of Ready. For every business requirement, I’ve set up my tools wisely: from thoroughness in the story description and the acceptance criteria, to checking how the team reacts to them, and adjusting in the next sprint. This is how I’ve been finding the correct level of detail for the group.

Owning a product for me means leading a team to care about the business as much as I do. Understanding the team as quickly as possible has been crucial in my success. I’d suggest to stay aware of the personality of the group, and to keep the balance, adapt, and actively use the appropriate approach to improve productivity and happiness.

Sacha Leite Ferreira

Product Owner

Leaseweb Global B.V.

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