Founder Fuel: Feed your inner introvert or extrovert to get the best from you and your team

Ever wonder why one of the smartest people in your team is staying silent in a meeting on a subject they know about? Or why someone else just doesn’t seem to want to stop talking?

The answer lies on the Introversion Extroversion scale. Understanding the differences between these two can really help team dynamics – even more so now most of us are working remote and interacting on Zoom.

In fact, helping your team to simply understand and appreciate the differences between them and their teammates can have an almost immediate effect on how they interact, help and appreciate each other. Something we could all do with to fuel our startup teams.

It’s about so much more than the Christmas Party…

Introversion and extroversion are often misunderstood as extroverts being the life and soul of the party and introverts being the shy person hiding in the corner.  In reality, introverts being seen as shy and retiring is one of the biggest myths around.

Introversion and Extroversion is all about where we naturally get our energy from.

Swiss Psychiatrist C.G.Jung, who first defined introversion and extroversion, coined the terms to mean: “the preferred focus of one’s energy on either the outer or inner world” (Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2020). Put simply, it’s whether we source our energy from people around us, as is the case for extroverts, or whether we source it from ourselves for introverts.

Extraverts are energized by other people and the world around them.

Introverts are energized by quiet space and reflection time alone.

This ‘Energy’ trait also impacts how we like to make decisions, making it all the more important for us to understand as founders.

Don’t assume you know who is who

Reading the above you probably picture a few team members and categorised them as introverted or extroverted, but don’t be fooled! As with anything in a startup it’s not always that black and white. Like all of the Jung or Myers Briggs personality traits, what we’re talking about is a sliding scale (we are never 100% one or the other) and it’s about our natural preference not a static label.

These preferences can be flexed. Those who are particularly self-aware, or have particular requirements for their role, learn to develop behaviours that are different to their natural preference. As such, you’ll find naturally introverted people delivering a presentation in an energetic, gregarious way; and you can find a naturally extroverted person sitting back in a meeting to reflect and compose their thoughts. These are learned behaviours.

Here is a quick guide to help you spot the natural preferences of those in your team:
What to look out for…A natural extrovert will…A natural introvert will…
After a really busy day…Go out and catch up with friends to refuelHead home and recharge alone
After performing a presentation or speech…Be pumped and ready to jump to the next thingBe exhausted and needing to refuel
When planning work tasks…Prefer to move between multiple projects / tasks for varietyPrefer to have focused time to dedicate to each project / task
In a meeting…Talk out loud in order to reach a decision or voice an opinionReflect silently until they have a decision or opinion to share
To make a decision…Prefer to talk out loud and make a decision with others in the momentPrefer to have time to reflect on the decision and return to the group later

To reiterate, the purpose here is not to create labels (as everyone can or can learn to flex their natural style) but instead to spot the potential areas of tension in a team and seek ways to help these two styles to work better together.

Why does it matter?

Understanding the impact of energy

The first two hints above are the most one-dimensional. After a long-day or after spending a lot of time in the spotlight, an introvert will want to spend time alone to recharge while an extrovert will be riding a high and want to spend time with others. It’s not about being shy, it’s all down to how we recharge our batteries: an introvert will have dispensed a large amount of energy on other people and will feel depleted, whereas an extrovert may be closer to fully charged and ready to continue interacting with others.

So what?

  • If you have an introverted energy style – how about blocking out time in the diary after you’ve been in the spotlight or in meetings, as recharge time or for solo work?
  • If you have an extroverted energy style – find ways to feed your energy by making time for informal chats and catch ups with others – especially now we’re all remote.
How interactions impact team dynamics

Whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, it’s likely that the extroverts in your team will be the first to speak in a meeting, and even be uncomfortable with silence. Their contributions to the meeting are made by talking out loud, even if it isn’t necessarily an immediate area of expertise. By contrast the introverts will appear more reserved, but only because they’re thinking through their idea on their own and waiting to share it when it’s hashed it out fully in their mind. The challenges for team dynamics is that this can leave extroverts with all the airtime and the structured thinking of introverts lost in the noise. In a startup world where we need to adapt and innovate to win, we can’t afford to lose any of these ideas.

So what?

  • Introverts in a team need to learn to accept that extroverts ‘need to talk it out’, rather than getting frustrated that other people aren’t getting to the point. Instead, understand that this is how others’ think through ideas to  improve team dynamics.
  • Extroverts need to pause, read the room and ask for contributions from those speaking less. This will unlock the thinking that has been going on in the background and can open up new ideas.
How decisions are made

Once again, there’s no one rule, but extroverts perform well at making decisions in the moment – ideally in the meeting with others in the room. Whilst introverts might feel backed into a corner if pressured to make a decision without taking a moment alone to consider the options. We all know that a startup often requires swift action and agility as there is always a new fire to fight, but don’t be tempted to think this means you should just be hiring extroverts. Quite the contrary – having a mix of personality types in your company ensures the best of both worlds – you can make speedy decisions and likely avoid potential mistakes.

So what?

  • If you’re the introvert making the decision, give yourself space! It’s easy to think a decision must be made now but even a few minutes reflection after the meeting will help harness your thoughts. Just get used to finishing meetings with an action that you’ll confirm the decision by a specified time/date.
  • If you’re working with introverts, avoid demanding an answer now – you might quash their ability to think through complex options and ideas and miss great opportunities.

To harness the extroverts decision-making power, turn to them for decisions that need a speedy response.

But don’t over-rely on labels

By being aware of these differences as a founder, we’re able to get the best out of everyone in our teams. It might be as simple as asking someone for a contribution in a meeting or allowing someone else to talk through their idea out loud, but this harnesses their natural ability most fully. As with anything for a startup founder, it’s a balancing act.

That being said, all good things must come with word of caution. As founders, we don’t want to blindly assign labels. Knowing the introverts from the extroverts can help us in the personality balancing game that leadership often is, but don’t assume an extrovert can’t ponder a tough question or an introvert isn’t happy to attend a networking or pitching event. Humans are multi-faceted and able to adapt to new challenges, even outside of their immediate comfort zone – that’s where those Learned Behaviours come in!

What all this means in a world communicating on Zoom…

With our entire lives upended in 2020, it’s all the more important as founders we continue to support our team, even if through a screen. By looking to understand these traits in our team members we can foster an atmosphere where everyone in the team feels heard and valued.

With all team interactions seemingly on Zoom for the foreseeable future, this might be more important than ever, with certain voices undoubtedly more commonly heard asking “Can everyone hear me, hope my connection isn’t too dodgy”, before giving their interpretation of the question at hand. On Zoom, look to invite contributions from others who aren’t leading the conversation.

And don’t leave yourself out of the equation. Reading through this article, you’ve probably noticed some of your own behaviours. Being aware of how we work ourselves can only be a strength for our personal wellbeing, but also the success of our businesses.

If you want a more complete view of different personality traits, 16Personalities has a brilliant test here and we’ll be talking about some of the other personality trait scales in upcoming articles too.


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