Almost all of the people on TeamFit work on teams, which is not surprising given the platform’s name. We spend a lot of time figuring out what patterns of skills help people to work together. So much of the work that we do today is done in teams that modern organizations can be described as teams of teams, overlapping circles of people who share responsibility for results.

What skill profiles do you look for to make sure that a team will cohere?

The straightforward approach would be to look for ‘soft skills’ on the team. Make sure there are people with high empathy and active listening skills, who have the sub-skills known to support collaboration like constructive questioning and the ability to give and accept questioning. Delegation is another important team skill, when one delegates one gives the other the authority to act while remaining accountable oneself. And let’s face it, teams only work when people hold themselves accountable for their own tasks and deliverables.

With TeamFit, we have discovered two other critical dimensions to collaboration. Teams have to be composed of people with complementary skills and with connecting skills.

Complementary Skills

These are skills that are not often found in the same person but that are powerful combinations. Great sports teams are built on these complementary skills: the pitcher and the catcher in baseball; the goalkeeper and the defense in soccer (or football for the international audience); the helmsman and trimmers and the navigator on a racing sailboat.

20161212_trimmer
Trimmer trims sails, watches other boasts & immediate situation
20161212_helmsman
Helmsman steers boat, makes immediate tactical decisions
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Navigator looks for wind weather and tidal changes, gets the boat where it should be

On technical teams, the UI designer and front-end engineer are strong complementary skills, as are the front-end and back-end developers. Our research suggests that project manager and client manager are also complementary skills, not often found in the same person!

Connecting Skills
We discovered connecting skills during research that David Botta was doing on how people organize their own skills. David is a senior developer at TeamFit, a role he combines with user research and investigations of the best ways to visualize our data.

When people are invited to group their skills they tend to have certain skills that they place between clusters, and when questioned on this say that ‘these are the skills that connect the two clusters and allow me to use them together on the same projects.

Further investigation found that the same thing happens between people. There are connecting skills that people with different roles from different disciplines use to communicate with each other. On the racing yacht, the trimmer and helmsman share a language of boat speed and apparent wind and can quickly communicate subtle changes in wave shape and boat motion. The navigator and helmsman communicate in a shared language of course made good (the boat’s actual path through the water accounting for drift, which is different from the compass course), weather systems, tides and competitive strategy.

People generally need to engage in a conversation to discover their connecting skills. TeamFit can help surface these skills and make sure that there are connections across the team. The team leader then needs to surface these connecting skills and make sure that people are aware of and are taking advantage of them.

Attitudes and soft skills are important for collaboration but they are not enough. A good team will have diversified skills, with lots of complementary pairings, but it will also have a lines of connecting skills that knit the team together.

For a deep investigation of how cognition, memory and decision-making are shared across teams, we recommend Edwin Hutchins astonishing book Cognition in the Wild which explores how people in the US Navy communicate in emergency situations and how Polynesian navigators travel from one island to another.Top image by Kurt Arrigo/Rolex for Sail Magazine. Several of the people at TeamFit are passionate sailors.