Skills are the tools we use when we work with each other. Too often we look at our skills in isolation from the people we work with. But in fact it is the combination of skills that let’s us form effective teams.

We can break this down into four sets of skills: the skills we share, the skills each of us has that complement the other and the skills we lack. To round things out, it is really useful to understand each other’s foundational skills – the skills that our other skills are based on.

Skills classification

When coaching on skills management I encourage people to start by looking for their shared skills. Starting with what we share helps build understanding and empathy. There are two places to do this. If you have a good understanding of the project and its requirements look at the practical technical and business skills that you share and will use on the project. But if the project is more amorphous, goal seeking rather than goal reaching, then getting a good understanding of each person’s foundational skills is critical.

Foundational skills are about how you learn new skills and how you apply your business and technical skills. They are the skills that carry you through your life and that you build on in all sorts of circumstances.

Once you have a good feel for your shared skills, look at the unique skills each person will bring to the project. Try to keep this to 5-to-7 skills and it is OK if these are rather high-level claims to begin with.

Now comes the hard part. Looking for what you don’t know. If you have built a similar project several times in the past, you will have a pretty good idea of what you are missing, but always beware of those unknown unknowns!

Let’s look at some real people that I work with. TeamFit’s CTO Lee Iverson and I have worked together on a number of projects and we have a pretty good idea of how we work together.

Skills Lee and Steven

Our VP Business Development Karen Chiang and I have also worked at a couple of companies together, but that was back in the 1990s. We are still learning about each other, but making good progress. That we have relatively few foundational skills in common means we need to work hard at this.

Skills Karen and Steven

Amar Dhaliwal and I are the co-founders of TeamFit. We have known each other for more than a decade and have long wanted to work together, but this is our first venture together. We are still learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work together most effectively, but now that Amar is on TeamFit fulltime we are making rapid progress.

Skills Steven and Amar

Note that all three of us have the foundational skill of “Learning.” And that Learning is one of the company’s core values. Nice, but perhaps “Learning” is too abstract a concept to really help, and we need to tap down on this to better understand how each other learn.

TeamFit is still a small company, with fewer than ten on the core team, so we could go on and build these charts for all the combinations of people. But that won’t scale (it is pretty hard to see the patterns once you get past more than 3-to-5 people). We are going to solve this with the TeamFit platform, with the July release of our Team Building module being our initial take.

TeamFit already helps you get a good picture of each of your potential teammates skills and how they work. Looking at the above you can see that one of the gaps is around UX and UI. We have several people in the team with expertise in these areas. Felix Tin on UX, David Botta on data visualization. And N-Q Chang on UI. Here is what N-Q’s TeamFit profile looks like.

TeamFit Profile N-Q

Once we break TeamFit down into a series of projects we see a lot of granular business and technical skills that we lack.

If you want to get started on skill-based team building there are some simple questions you can ask yourself and the other people you work with.

  1. What skills do I use over and over again across many different projects?
  2. What skills do I use to build new skills?
  3. What skills do I often use together?
  4. What is a skill I have only used a few times?

Then go to the people you work with. Have a conversation about

  1. What skills do I usually use when we work together?
  2. What skills do we share?
  3. What skills complement each other?
  4. Are there any skills we never use with each other?

We would love to hear from you about how you use skills to build teams and to take teams to higher levels of performance. You can e-mail us your ideas.