A simple question,

“Can you perform the same role using different skills?”

From another perspective,

“Can the same skill set be applied to different roles?”

Why do these questions matter?

How you answer them will say a great deal about the kind of organizational culture you are building. Are you building a culture of specialists or generalists? Do you want people to have deep exercise in or possibly two domains, or are you going to invest in growing people with comb-shaped skill profiles who can go deep in several different areas? What mix do you currently have and what is the optimal mix for your organization.

One Skill Set applied to One Role Multiple Roles
  Specialists Generalists
Multiple Skill Sets applied to One Role Multiple Roles
  Diversity Comb-Shaped

Most organizations will want a mix of people. They will need some generalists and some specialists. People who are adept at applying their skills to more than one roles are often the glue that connects the different roles and promote the sharing of knowledge across roles. People who have comb-shaped skills profiles (they are relatively deep in several domains) and who work across multiple roles are likely rare today, but they are also likely to be the places where innovation sparks.

In most cases the real world probably looks something like this. There are a set of core skills that everyone in a role is expected to have. Then each person has some

For most roles, there will be a set of common or core skills. Without these core skills it will be very difficult to perform the role at an acceptable level. For all but the simplest roles, these core skills will be necessary but not sufficient. There will be other skills that each person brings to the role that support their special approach and that make them more suitable for one project than another. Then there are the supporting skills, that help the person perform the role. They may be optional, but at least some of them need to be present.

Simpler or better-established roles may have more standardized skill models.

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There will be more core skills and fewer differentiating or supporting skills. It is easier to train for this type of role. But there is a cost. The lack of diversity in skills will generally lead to less creative and resilient organizations.

An examination of the TeamFit skill graph suggests that Account Managers, Project Managers and Program Managers share a common set of skills: communication, negotiation, planning, trade-off management, risk management. Most people who excel at project management will be able to apply their existing skills to account management or program management, or, as we noted in an earlier post, to product management.

At TeamFit, we are developing an open and flexible data model that allows for many-to-many mapping between skills, projects and roles. In other words, any one skill may be applied to may different projects and be part of many different roles. There will be no one ideal set of skills that characterizes a role. Instead, there will be several different sets of skills that can be used to carry out a role. (It actually goes much deeper than this, for any individual, each skill will have a unique set of links to other skills and will have been applied in different skills – your skill in Design Thinking will be comprised of different associated skills and have been applied in different ways than my own Design Thinking skill.)

This open and evolutionary approach to the skill graph is required in today’s world. The rapid evolution of job roles, the new skills needed, and the unique ways that people combine skills to build teams mean that a more rigid approach will crack as soon as people begin to apply it.

TeamFit’s mission is to help individuals and organizations to expand their potential and to make a difference by applying their skills to projects.

Top image from Penn State course on Flowering Plants.