3 reasons why introverts make good Scrum Masters

At a glance, the job as a Scrum Master may seem like a role mainly suited for extroverts. Constant interaction with people is part of the bargain. Large amounts of talking to people is kind of unavoidable when you’re trying to help them improve their communication and collaboration. Be the change you want to see, and all that.

So, how could an introvert, a person who can get exhausted from social interaction and has a need to spend time alone, possibly be successful as a Scrum Master?

Having spent eleven years as a Scrum Master (time flies!), I’ve concluded that being an introvert actually doesn’t need to be a disadvantage at all. Quite the contrary, there are in fact several benefits to being an introverted Scrum Master!

1. Shutting up is a core skill as a Scrum Master

First and foremost, we Scrum Masters are not there to solve the team’s problems for them or to tell them what to do. We are there to help the team spot and solve their problems themselves. When trying to create lasting change, it turns out it’s often better to keep our opinions to ourselves and create space for the team’s ideas. Suddenly, not talking all that much becomes a super power!

2. When trying to understand others, it’s quite useful to understand yourself

In Agile team, where collaboration and team work is such an essential part, it can be easy to judge someone sitting quiet as not playing their part. However, as we introverts know, someone being quiet doesn’t necessarily mean they are not engaged. There are so many other reasons!

Maybe they feel all relevant points already are being raised and the discussion is moving in a good direction, so there’s no need to speak just for the sake of it. This is often the case when I’m quiet myself.

Or maybe they do have a lot they are wanting to say but the others aren’t leaving enough space to let them. Or they’ve just not finished expressing what they are trying to say in their own head yet. Or they might be uncomfortable with the whole situation as they don’t know the others well enough to relax and be themselves.

Don’t make assumptions! You don’t know what a quiet person is thinking.

3. Understanding the need for an environment where everyone can be heard

We’ve all seen team discussions being dominated by a small number of people, while the rest are sitting quiet. A Scrum Master facilitating such a team needs to help make sure everyone’s opinions and ideas can be heard. Otherwise, what seems like consensus may not be consensus at all and chances are the best ideas are geting missed.

While I know it can be dangerous to generalise too much based on my “focus group of one”, I have found the following insights from my own life as an introvert useful as a facilitator:

  • As a participant, I rarely find it useful when someone calls me out, asking “Magnus, you’ve been quiet a long while. What do you think?”. I do however appreciate that when I am trying to get a word in, someone notices and invites me in.
  • A smaller group can make it a lot easier being part of a conversation (even hard to avoid!). Splitting the team into smaller groups for part of a discussion can be really helpful.
  • Sometimes, I need to gather my thoughts before I speak and a few minutes reflection before a discussion starts can really help. Avoid diving straight into a brainstorm with people shouting out their ideas without giving people time to think.
  • When I haven’t said anything for a long while during a long discussion, I find it rather awkward to join in when I finally have something I do want to say. It is almost as if I invite myself into someone else’s conversation. Not entirely unlike interrupting the couple sitting at the table next to me in a restaurant: “Excuse me, I heard what you were saying about getting kids and stuff and, actually…”. That’s why starting a workshop with an exercise where everyone gets to say something is a good idea, so they are part of the conversation. Also, switching between different formats helps create new oportunities to rejoin the discussion during a long workshop.

Final thoughts

I hope this doesn’t need saying but introverts can be awesome Scrum Masters. Am I suggesting thay make better Scrum Masters than extroverts? No! Being an extrovert also has many benefits! The point I’m trying to make is that one isn’t better than the other.

Success as a Scrum Master is down to how we put the things we are talanted at to good use. Just like we need to help those in our teams to do.