TeamFit takes an open, bottom up, approach to skills. Anyone can claim a skill and they can call anything they like a skill. This keeps the system open and adaptive and lets new skills and skill terms bubble up from the actual work.

Once a skill has been claimed by a person, our software gets to work. Skills are mapped to our skill graph and eccentric spellings or phrasing normalized (dot Net is .Net; if it is in the context of other pricing skills, EVE is Economic Value Estimation). One of the most important things we do is try to place skills into categories.

Our top-level categories are Tools, Technical, Design, Business, Domain, Social and Foundational. We also call out languages such as English, French, Portuguese for special treatment. These categories are system wide. We also have a categorization system that is unique to each person, team or organization: Potential, Supporting, Core and Differentiation.

System Categories Applied Across All People, Teams, Organizations
Tools: Explicit tools such as programming languages and frameworks, software applications, pieces of equipment and so on. There are often formal certifications for these tools.Technical: Skills that require formal knowledge to apply successfully, often used in engineering, technology development but also in other professions such as accounting, law and engineering.

Design: This is a new category. We are seeing a surge in demand for design skills in the professional services companies we serve and it seemed important to surface this. Design skills are those that support the creative design of new solutions.

Business: The general skills needed to operate a business, from strategy and planning to finance, to operations, marketing and sales.

Domain: Understanding of specific industries or fields of study.

Social: The skills that help us to build relationships and work effectively with other people.

Foundational: The skills that help us to build other skills.

 

Contextual Categories Unique to People, Teams, Organizations
Potential: Skills that are present but are not being applied.Supporting: Skills that are necessary but are not core to a role or organization. These skills can often be outsourced to someone who applies them as core skills.

Core: The skills that are essential to carrying out work and that cannot be easily outsourced to another person or organization.

Differentiating: The core skills that provide a person, team of organization with its unique perspective. Differentiating skills are always relative to an alternative. If two people each have the role of Project Manager, they will general share a large number of core skills, but will have certain skills that distinguish them from each other and that determine how they approach project management.

In this post, I would like to talk about the relative importance of Core and Foundational Skills. Foundational Skills are seldom seen as being core, let alone differentiated, as they are generally one step removed from actual business activities. They are the skills that let a person or organization build and apply new skill sets. Over the long term, companies that are weak in foundational skills and fail to support them will suffer from failure to thrive. And even in the short term, there are some teams where foundational skills are more important than core skills.

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For project teams with well-established goals and known ways of working together core skills are the most important consideration. This describes many, perhaps even most, corporate teams.

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There is another type of team that is very important in today’s innovation economy. These are what Gary Klein calls Goal Seeking Teams.  In goal seeking teams, foundational skills are more important than core skills as we cannot be sure in advance what core skills will be necessary. Team coherence is also important for these teams, as they will be challenged to make difficult decisions.

In a rapidly changing environment, full of political, business and technical uncertainty, more and more companies are going to need to rely on goal seeking teams for innovation and even for strategy. Investment in foundational skills is critical to succeed in today’s environment.

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Do you know what your own foundational skills are? And are you investing in building these skills, both in yourself and in the organizations you work with? This is a best practice for building up adaptability and resilience.

Top image, raft foundations, from Carmaky.

Raft Foundations are reinforced concrete foundations typically constructed on certain ground classifications such as clay, dolomite, turf or collapsible soil. Raft Foundations cover a wide area, often the entire footprint of a building. They spread the load imposed by a number of columns or walls over a large area, and can be considered to ‘float’ on the ground as a raft floats on water.