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6 tips to boost participation from introverts in Retrospectives

Introverts in retrospectives

For a retrospective meeting to be successful, each team member around the (virtual) table needs to participate openly and honestly.

Easier said than done though, right?

That’s because different personality types, such as introverts and extroverts, feel comfortable sharing in different ways.

In this article, we share 6 expert tips to run an inclusive retrospective for introverts —a long misunderstood yet extremely valuable character type in the workforce.

Keep reading to get the most authentic contribution from your introverted team members in your next retrospective.

In this article, we will explore the following topics:

Qualities of introverts: how to spot them on your team

Truth be told, it’s not all black and white as introverts and extroverts exist on a continuum. Some people even toggle between both realms; these are called ambiverts. The basic difference is that extroverts derive their energy from being with people, whereas introverts derive their energy from being alone.

One common misconception to be mindful of however, is that introverts are simply “quiet” and “shy”. While it might seem that way, introverts just prefer communicating in smaller groups, or better yet, one-on-one.

Before making any more assumptions, let’s take a look at some of the common qualities of introverted people. You’ll notice quickly that there’s more to it than being soft spoken. 

Character traits of introverts:

  • Independent 

  • Don’t tend to like group work 

  • Prefer written communication to verbal 

  • Take time to make a decision 

  • Attentive, active listeners  

  • Observant, perceptive 

  • Analytical in nature

  • Structured, thrive best in a structured environment

  • Introspective, reflective 

  • Self-aware 

  • Preference for planning ahead

  • Calculated risk takers 

  • Possess the ability to build deep relationships 

  • Don’t like being the center of attention 

Why you don’t want to to miss out on what introverts have to say 

Bottom line, introverts don’t speak just for the sake of speaking. So while they might not contribute often, when they do decide to vocalize something, you can be sure that they put thought into it. 

These contemplative and analytical character traits are extremely valuable in high-stakes meetings like retros where important and difficult conversations occur. 

Because words matter when broaching touchy topics like team dynamics or digging into why a project failed, an introverts’ well thought out perspectives brings great intention to the meeting. 

Introverts are also good listeners, a top quality in creating a safe space for people to share openly and ensure everyone on the team feels heard.

So, while your more introverted teammates may say less, the merit of their words and thoughtful ideation are what really matters. It’s a quality over quantity thing here.

6 ways to maximize participation from introverts in your retrospective 

This all sounds great, but how do you actually empower introverts to participate more? The 6 tips below will help you kick their contribution into full gear.

1. Don’t put them on the spot

Introverts do not enjoy being put on the spot. Calling on them randomly can be torture for them, as is being the center of attention.

While sometimes it might feel like speaking to them directly is the only way to get them to participate, it likely won’t yield the best results. Instead, start the retro by stating your expectation that everyone participates, and include a glimpse into when this participation time might be so they don’t feel blindsided. 

Try this: Set an agenda for the meeting at the beginning of the retro so there’s visibility on what to expect. This sense of structure does wonders for the introverted mind.

MEETING AGENDA 

  • Icebreaker (5 min)

  • Follow-up on past action items (5 min)

  • Presentation of activity (5 min)

  • Reflection time (15 min)

  • Share, discuss and regroup comments (25 min)

  • Vote (5 min)

  • Break (5 min)

  • Craft action items (20 min)

  • ROTI (5 min)

2. Give them enough time to prepare 

If you know the theme of your next retro ahead of time, let your team know in advance. Offering this extra reflection time will allow your more introverted colleagues to show up prepared and ready to contribute.

Alternatively, if there’s no specific theme to share beforehand, make sure to give enough time during the retrospective activity for your team to reflect, choose their words, and write down their thoughts. You’ll get the best version of introverts when they don’t feel rushed.

Try this: Try sharing the retrospective board virtually in advance to allow for deeper reflection time without the feeling of being rushed. Running an asynchronous retrospective format (great for remote teams) gives introverts the chance to optimize their preparation, and participate on their own clock. Try our “Keep, Drop, Start’ retrospective template for your first async retro!

3. Break out into smaller discussion groups 

If you have a larger team, consider breaking off into smaller discussion groups (if you’re conducting a remote retrospective, you can create breakout rooms). Introverted character types are more likely to open up in an intimate setting.

Then, when it comes time to share with the whole team, each group can nominate one person to summarize the main points. You’ll see that your introverted team members are much more likely to bring value this way. 

Try this: If you have a smaller team and breaking out into groups doesn’t really make sense, try dividing the group in pairs. Introverts thrive in one-on-one conversations, so this format is especially valuable if you’re having a hard time getting them to participate. 

4. Create a safe space for different communication types

It’s important to foster an environment that feels psychologically safe for each person to express themselves in the way that they are most comfortable.

How? Embrace people’s differences and create a set of team principles that honours them.

This team discussion can be held outside of the retrospective timeframe, but the principles should be repeated at the beginning of each retro as a gentle reminder, much like the Prime Directive intends to summon collaboration and respect amongst peers. The idea is for everyone to share how they prefer to function in a retro to maximize their engagement. Here’s an example of what this sort of team contract might look like!

RETROSPECTIVE TEAM PRINCIPLES

  • Do not put anyone on the spot! 

  • Leave room for everyone to speak 

  • Ask meaningful followup questions before challenging a point 

  • Provide a clear agenda at the beginning of each retro 

  • Allow for more reflection time if needed, even if the timer has buzzed 

Try this: As new colleagues join your team, it’s important to revise these principles, as each team member should be able to see their needs reflected in the principles. 

5. Take a break halfway through

After spending time in a group, introverts need to recharge, solo. Even if your retrospective is only an hour, offer a break at the halfway point to let them refuel their energy.

Giving them this time to process and reset mentally will go a long way in ensuring that your introverted colleagues are in the best headspace to continue to bring value. 

Try this: Upon returning from your break, don’t just jump right back into the meeting. Do a quick roundtable check-in and see how everyone’s feeling, or restart with a quick icebreaker question to build empathy and get everyone back into a positive, participatory mindset.  

6. Leverage technology that enables anonymity 

The best retros are those where everything that needs to be said is said, but that’s not always easy. Certain topics can be difficult to broach, not just for introverts but for everyone!

Offering the option to share one’s thoughts anonymously will not only increase the chances of surfacing the more delicate points, but it will encourage introverts (who are not so keen on sharing in groups) to participate at their fullest. 

Try this: Retrospective tools like Neatro make anonymity simple. Just toggle on the anonymity feature and watch as your team members flood the board with their honest sentiments and best ideas.

How Neatro increases overall team engagement in retrospectives

While this article focused mainly on how to create a safe space for introverts to participate in retrospectives, a sense of safety and inclusion is needed all around. At Neatro, we built a retrospective experience that elevates psychological safety and meeting effectiveness for all kinds of teams. Here’s how: 

  • We avoid groupthink at all costs: when participants write comments and suggest ideas, they do so individually first. Thus, no one can be influenced by other team members. The same logic applies during the dot-voting stage, where team members vote individually and prioritize the most important topics.

  • We authorize anonymity: As we mentioned, it can be difficult to raise a delicate point, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. That's why we offer every participant the opportunity to share ideas anonymously.

  • We take a pulse on how everyone enjoyed the retro: At the end of each retrospective, participants rate how the retrospective went in full anonymous mode. Each member shares a score and a few comments to help the team improve the quality of their retrospectives. If something was wrong, anyone can call the elephant in the room with full confidence.

  • What happens in our retrospectives stays in our retrospectives: With Neatro, you can create several teams to ensure no one outside your team gets access to your retrospective content.

Do you want to maximize psychological safety and  participation from everybody in your retrospective?

Try Neatro now!

Discover Neatro's retrospective templates