Many of us like to claim a lot of skills. Active users on the TeamFit platform typically claim 50 or more skills, and most people have the maximum 50 listed on their LinkedIn profiles. The typical project on TeamFit, with three-to-five people on the team, will have 20-to-30 skills listed.

Of course any individual, or team, will have only a tiny subset of all the skills available. TeamFit already has more than 2,000 skills listed (all user generated) and a major skills library like DISCO – The European Dictionary of Skills and Competences has more than 10,000 different skills identified.

With all those skills, how do we go about organizing them so that we can better understand each other (and ourselves) and build great teams?

One common approach is to divide skills into ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills.’ ‘Hard skills’ are business and technical skills that people can be trained for.  ‘Soft skills’ is used somewhat loosely in the field. One definition, from Wikipedia, is

“the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills contrast to hard skills, which are generally easily quantifiable and measurable (e.g. software knowledge, basic plumbing skills)”

Do ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills’ really describe how people think about their skills and how they are organized? Not according to our research. We have been looking into this from three perspectives:

  • Studying how individuals cluster their own skills (TeamFit and LinkedIn skills)
  • Studying how individuals cluster an organization’s skills (from TeamFit)
  • Studying other self-organizing semantic networks like folksonomies

We have written a little app to study skill clustering (a screen grab is shown below). Some people go about skill grouping by fitting skills into pre-conceived categories. For other people the categories seem to emerge form the process. We do not yet know how stable these categories are over time or how context dependent they may be. Do people group skills differently depending on the type of project they are working on; or depending on whom they may be working with?

Skills map

One interesting concept that has come up with several users is that of ‘connecting skills.’ A connecting skill is one that connects two different clusters or categories. Sometimes these are metaskills (skills that underpin our ability in many different areas) but several people identify quite specific and practical skills as the connectors between different groups. For example, for one person ‘knowledge management’ is a skill that connects ‘semantic technologies’ with ‘enterprise software.’ In our skill sorting exercise these connecting skills are generally placed in between the two categories that they connect. I have a hunch that these connecting skills are going to be very important going forward, and that there will be skills that support connections between people and that are critical to team work.

Card sorting is another way to explore how people categorize skills. We have been doing this in our research into how people sort an organization’s skills (the union of all the skills of individuals in the organization). This can be a lot of work; even a small company like TeamFit has already collected more than 200 different skills. People use all sorts of implicit ordering in this task: grouping cards, ordering them from left to right to indicate a process, stacking them to indicate general to specific, putting metaskills at the top (or bottom) of the table. In general (and not surprisingly) people apply more structure to the skill groups that they apply the most often in their work.

Skills tags

We are working on our own model for how to organize skills and we will regularly update you on our progress. At present we will have four classes of skills:

  1. Meta skills – the skills we use to gain other skills and that underlie many other skills
  2. Soft skills – we will use a rather narrow definition, focusing on EQ
  3. Technical Skills
  4. Business Skills

Skills can have the following relations

  1. Complements – if you have Skill A, you or a team member should have Skill B (front-end and backend development or UX and UI)
  2. Associates – if you have Skill A there is also a high probability you have Skill B (and if you do not you will be ranked lower on Skill A)
  3. Components – Skill A is composed of a number of component skills that contribute to a person’s ability to apply the skill (see below)
  4. Parents – more general or abstract skills (or skill sets) from which this skill inherits

Here is a preliminary sketch of the relations.

Skills organigram

And a concrete example …

Design Thinking and Skills

We are not planning to impose these relations top down but rather let them emerge from use. And different users will have different ideas about the component skills of shared skills, as is shown below for two people who claim Design Thinking as a skill.

Design Thinking as a skill

Our skills underpin the knowledge economy. Furthermore, our shared skills, our connector skills and our complementary skills are what let us work together on teams.

Let us know how you organize your own skills, and how skills connect your teams and are distributed across your company.