Does a certain member of your team seem to be holding back on their contributions, even though the cogs are clearly turning? If so, they may well be an introvert – someone who can find uncontrolled social engagement challenging and draining.
We’ll be exploring this topic in depth in the spring 2023 issue of Project journal, out in March. As part of our research, we asked introverted project professionals to share their top tips on how to make the most of the deep and varied introvert skill set. Here’s what they told us.
Give them time to prepare
If you’re using meetings to make big decisions, the introverts on your team risk being talked over by those who are more comfortable being spontaneous and sharing their opinions in groups. And that can be frustrating.
Introverts often take comfort in preparation, and they may be able to contribute more effectively if they know what they’re going to say before they enter the room. So, consider sending out information a couple of days in advance, or even calling ahead to check they’re comfortable with how things will run.
“Tell everyone the discussion points, the decisions needed and the facts underlying those coefficients, and the introverted people get to use their ability to reflect deeply on things,” says Linus Jonkman, author of Introvert: The friendly takeover. “They will probably be way more active, present strong opinions and participate in discussions differently.”
Schedule regular one-to-one check-ins
If someone is quiet in meetings, it may be better to engage with them one-on-one afterwards, rather than focusing on them in the moment. Carve out 10 minutes to talk and get their perspective. Ask where they see their strengths and weaknesses, and how they feel the environment could be adapted so they can contribute more effectively.
The same goes for delegating tasks.
“Do this on a one-to-one basis, allowing them time to ask questions,” says Olubukola Feyisetan ChPP, delivery lead at HMRC. “Also agree regular checkpoints throughout the task. An introvert may not feel comfortable raising questions or asking for help, and you don’t want any surprises at the end.”
Tailor your meetings
Think carefully about the people you put together in groups. What’s their way of working? Do certain people tend to dominate? If you don't know people's working habits, be ready to evaluate and adapt that environment when things are up and running. If conversations are not flowing, or if certain people look overrun, break them into smaller groups as you go. And let people contribute in alternative ways.
If an introvert has done a great job, don’t highlight this in front of people. Take them to one side and congratulate them.
Clare Hornsby, project manager at BAE Systems, recalls a time when an introverted team member was due to receive an award – usually given out centre-stage, in the middle of their open-plan office. The manager would give a speech, the individual would be expected to respond, and the group would cheer and clap as the award was handed over. This, she realised, was the last thing that needed to happen.
“I knew she would be mortified to receive her award in such a way,” says Hornsby. “But it was also really important that the occasion was celebrated. I booked a small meeting room, got coffee and cakes, and we had an individual celebration, where I could congratulate her directly. I then told other members of the team about her award, so that they could personally congratulate her, if they wished.
“The result was that we marked the occasion, but without her feeling embarrassed or overwhelmed.”
Encourage introverts to ‘show and tell’
Project management requires a wide range of skills and behaviours – even those we may be less comfortable about using. Everyone will need to push beyond their comfort zone sometimes.
Feyisetan once asked for support on a set of tasks at a project checkpoint meeting. While extroverted team members quickly volunteered, she ended up assigning an introverted member of the team to review the high-level risks and issues, and to present his thoughts on the progress of mitigating actions to the team.
He used his analytical and visual aid skills to create a one-page PowerPoint slide, which he presented to the others, who asked questions as he articulated his work, sources and findings.
“The rest of the team were impressed with the knowledge shared,” she says. “This helped to foster better team collaboration and improved teamwork. And it improved his confidence levels in communication.”
For a longer feature on introverts in project management, look out for the spring 2023 edition of Project journal, out in March. Project is an exclusive benefit for APM members.