How to Engage Quiet Team Members?

Brittni Bowering gives you handy tips on how to work with introverted teams. Apply them during your next retro!

Our guest

Brittni Bowering is a recognized workshop designer, facilitator, and event host. She has collaborated with companies like Twitter, Lufthansa, and Procter & Gamble. Brittni believes that having fun can increase motivation and inspire people to do great things. She’s helped many teams work more efficiently through the power of workshops and facilitation.

About the episode

In this episode, Brittni helps us understand the difference between extroverts and introverts and explains where introverted people get their energy from. Brittni shares tips on the types of exercises that will build confidence and enable introverts to share their best ideas with the team.

Listen to this episode


Gosia: Hi, I’m Gosia from Whiteboards. This is the Agile on Board Show. I’m here with Brittni Bowering, a recognized workshop designer, and facilitator.

Today we’re going to talk about how to engage introverted teams. If you’re new to Agile or if you’ve been practicing Agile for a while, you know that retrospective sessions are very important. We need to reflect on what went wrong, and what went right during the last Sprint, in order not to keep repeating the same mistakes. What might be tricky is when the team is quiet and introverted because you need your team members to be vocal about the issues.

Brittni is going to help us answer this question, “How to engage quiet, introverted teams.” Brittni, do you have any top tips?

Brittni: I’ve got lots to say about this actually. First of all, it’s important to recognize what being introverted versus extroverted actually means. Introverted people get their energy from being on their own or in very small groups of people, whereas extroverted people usually get their energy from socializing and collaborating with other people. It’s a difference between where you get energy and where you get drained of energy.

Gosia: That’s very interesting. I thought it was more connected to the fact that you’re not really sociable, but it’s about energy!

Brittni: I think understanding this key aspect is very helpful, especially when you’re thinking about how to work with different people, depending on whether they’re introverted or extroverted. You can understand if they’re energized by their alone time, being with their own thoughts, or working in small teams. Introverts would rather build relationships with a small number of people while an extroverted person might be one of those who love ‘the more the merrier scenario!’

Extroverted people, often like small talk, whereas introverted people would prefer real conversations with people instead of a ‘how’s the weather’ chat.

When you’re thinking about how to engage your team, there are a lot of things to consider. You need to think about how people prefer to work. It’s tricky, because, everybody has their preferences, and everybody is a little bit different, but I think when you’re working with people remotely, there’s a lot you can do that will make sure that no matter if your team is, all introverted or just a few of them are introverted, everyone’s going to feel comfortable and safe.

Gosia: That’s great that you have some tips.

Brittni: I think in the design world, there are a lot of introverts. Introverted, people are very powerful because they take their time, they think about what they want to say, and they weigh all of the different options.

What introverted people are famous for is thinking things through. I’m probably leaning more toward the extroverted side, but I think everybody has a little bit of both.

When you’re thinking about how you run a retrospective, introverted people are not the kinds of people at whom you can throw a question and expect that immediate response. They’re more of the type of people who might want to take their time. They want to think about all the different ways they could tackle the ideas that they might have. Then they’ll get excited about presenting you with the best idea that they’ve come up with.

Gosia: Right, they don’t like being put on the spot.

Brittni: I think in general, a lot of people don’t really like being put on the spot. However, for introverted people, it’s especially tough. Extroverted people can talk their way out of things, they’ll just throw some words together.

When it comes to retrospectives we need to make sure that the expectations are clear upfront, on what’s going to happen in the session. If you want to ask the team the classic retrospective questions, ‘what’s worked well, what hasn’t worked’ – give them time to prepare that beforehand. The more warning, the better. You’ll get more thoughtful answers from everybody on your team.

It’s all about making people feel comfortable and safe when they come to the session. If you’re running a retrospective, which is usually a short session, send out an email, where it says ‘here’s our agenda, here are the topics that we’re going to cover, and here are the questions that I’m going to ask.’

Gosia: I think it might be beneficial when the Sprint starts, your team can already start writing down items on sticky notes in case you’re running the retrospective on a digital whiteboard. Then no one will feel like they’re being put on the spot and that they have to come up with something in five seconds.

Brittni: Exactly. That’s key. And then if you’re making sure that everybody feels prepared beforehand, there are a couple of things to keep in mind once the session starts.

I always like to start with a quick icebreaker. I think this is especially important when you’re working with a team of extroverts and introverts because it opens the floor. It may seem like ‘oh, introverted people probably won’t like an icebreaker’ but it depends on the icebreaker you’re using.

What I like to do for short sessions is something simple. You ask one question to which everyone’s going to have an automatic answer. One that I really like, is ‘what’s the best thing that happened to you in the last seven days?’ It can be about work, it can be about your family, it can be something small. I’ll start out by giving an example: ‘I made cookies on the weekend and tried a new recipe, it was amazing.’

It relaxes everybody, introverts and extroverts included. Everybody feels a little bit more like the floor is open. They feel they’ve already said something out loud, there’s no nervousness around ‘oh, this is the first time I’m saying something.’ Everybody has already done that.

The key, of course, is to make sure the question is simple, easy to answer, and not embarrassing.

Gosia: Right, so it builds up the confidence. I can see that working actually.

Brittni: I think that the icebreaker is very important. Then you need to think about the exercises, the types of things you’re asking everybody to do. What is really important when you think about introverted versus extroverted is that extroverts like to talk their way through things.

For me, just talking about something helps me process my idea and develop it. Whereas introverts might feel a little bit differently, they might need a bit more quiet time to think about what they want to say. They might prefer to write something down before putting it out there.

When I’m building a workshop, I’m always thinking about having a balance of these activities. Doing an open discussion where everyone is asked to share their opinion can make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially if they’re not given the chance to really think it through first.

People who know me would say ‘Brittni’s the biggest extrovert there is’ but even for me, I like to give thoughtful answers.

Gosia: So it can work for both introverts and extroverts.

Brittni: I think so. I know there are some people who can develop their ideas as they’re talking about it. That also works. At the end of the exercise, you might share back to the group, so the extroverts can have that moment to develop their idea too. Try to accommodate different styles of exercises in order to, make sure everybody feels comfortable, safe, and confident.

I would like to ask you, how long is a typical retrospective?

Gosia: We actually started to run retrospectives on our marketing team, which is quite interesting. We’re doing it in an Agile style and learning as we go along. During our first session, we started with the positives and that took a big chunk of our time, and we didn’t have time to focus on the negatives and create action points. We had to run another session. It’s just the beginning of our retro sessions but I would say the team needs more than an hour, maybe an hour minimum.

Brittni: If your meeting runs over an hour, you really need to think about adding a break. Organize yourself accordingly to make sure that you provide regular breaks, which is especially important for introverted people who, as we said, lose energy by being in an environment where there’s a lot going on. Make sure that you’re giving everybody the space that they need, in order to stay energized, stay motivated, and therefore, stay engaged in what they’re doing.

Gosia: I have to say, this is an eye-opener to me, because I’m definitely an introvert, and I didn’t realize it was about the energy. I love spending time with people but sometimes it might be a bit draining, especially if it’s going on for a long time. That’s great advice to introduce breaks.

Brittni: You thought that it was about being social versus not being very social, it’s actually not really like that at all. Some of the most introverted people I know are also some of the best conversationalists. These are the most interesting people to talk to because they’re listening to you, which is so refreshing. I think in this day and age, there’s a lot of just ‘everybody waiting for their turn to talk’ kind of vibes.

I talked about that before, but it’s so important to have a balance and mix it both on a team. You cannot operate with only introverts or only extroverts. It’s so much better to have a little bit of both, a nice little mix.

One thing that I wanted to discuss is group work. Extroverts like big social settings, whereas introverts prefer smaller groups. If you’re running a retrospective, depending on the size of your team, you might consider breaking into smaller groups. If you want people to talk to each other, make sure you break the teams into groups of two or three, so that it’s not an overwhelming experience for everybody. In smaller groups, you can have more thoughtful conversations.

Another interesting thing is the idea of anonymity. Sometimes you might need to do things on the spot where you didn’t have time to prep or think about what to say in advance. A good way to ease everybody, including introverts, is to make some things anonymous, not always putting everybody’s name stamped on their idea. Not attributing ownership but rather keeping things fluid.

Gosia: Right, so that everyone feels safe. I can see that working.

Brittni: For me, that’s such a powerful tool in general. Think about how to keep things a little bit more anonymous in the workplace. There are always those moments when you’re going to feel a little bit insecure as an intern putting forward an idea when your boss is there.

It’s nice to have this moment where everybody just feels like everybody’s equal. Everybody’s ideas matter. Let’s keep it across the board, anonymous. I love it. I think it’s really powerful.

Gosia: That’s great. Thanks, Brittni for all these tips. Thank you everyone for listening. Tune in to future episodes of Agile on Board and see you around!