How to use a Team Competency Matrix to develop your team

In this article, I described how I tried out and experimented with the Team Competency Matrix in my consultant network. The Competency Matrix is an easy to use but powerful Management 3.0 tool to show the competencies your team has, what you need, and where the gaps may be. In this article, I would like to share the idea behind this approach and how it helped me to verify skills, identify, and close gaps. It is a spreadsheet that lists and classifies all skills you may need in your team.

I work in a network with other independent consultants of experts on remote work and digital collaboration, executive leadership coach, and agile trainer. I introduced the tool to get each other better know which talents and skills we have in our network. We usually work on projects for larger enterprises and clients together which demand a special mixture of skills we can deliver and bring together from our network.

We used the Team Competency Matrix group session where we reflected on our competencies we had in our network and which ones we would like to improve in the next months. Not only that, but we also wanted to get to know each other better. There was no specific project, the session was more about the strategic portfolio and service development. We had the idea to create and offer a new leadership training together about digital remote leadership. Furthermore, we would like to act more as a team than as independent consultants and find out how to work together better for clients, align our skills, and meet future requirements of our clients what they need to become “digital fit”. To evaluate and know each other skills is essentials to have the right match for clients and projects and know how we can benefit from working together as a consultant and trainer network.


How we used the Matrix

Instead of an Excel spreadsheet, we created a Mural board. But you can use any tool where you can create a simple list or matrix.

For the skill evaluation, we discussed different models to classify the different skill levels. We agreed on the following simple model and colours for each skill level:

  • Expert: I can teach it. (Green)
  • Practitioner: I can do it. (Yellow)
  • Novice/Beginner: What is it? (Red)

You can also use numbers 1,2,3 instead of the colours if you prefer working with numbers. Everybody filled out the matrix and assigned a red, yellow, or green sticky note to each skill according to their level of expertise.

The first column in the Team Competency Matrix shows the required skills, the second column specifies the required levels and how many people showed to have a specific skill level. The other columns are the results of the individual assessment of each team member.


Example anonymous Mural Board (in the real one we evaluated much more skills):


First, we identified the objective of what we would like to achieve. Our goal was to develop the new leadership program.

In the first round, I asked them to think about the two top skills which they believe were essential and crucial for the development of our planned program.

Then we brainstormed and defined all skills we have, and which we need to develop this training. As a facilitator, I wanted to make sure to focus on positive things first with the question “What are good at?”, then discussing what is missing and identifying gaps in our individual professional experience. I believe to talk about good things first, increases the positive energy and mood of a group. In future facilitation, I would do this again.

We considered everything like topics, tools, technologies, practices, hard skills, or soft skills. Next, each person evaluated their level of competence in each skill as an individual assessment. I made clear it is not about judgment of each person’s skill level, but about growth and learning.

To help the team to reflect their skill level, I gave them the following questions:

  • What problem areas do you see?
  • What and where appears to be the key problem for you?
  • Where for you is most work that needs to be done?
  • What do you need to know more about before you begin work on identifying a solution?
  • As you think about your first experience with…, what jumps out in your mind?
  • What do you already know about…?
  • Where are you confused? What fits with your personal experience? What doesn’t fit?


Getting an honest skill assessment

As a facilitator, in this part of the workshop, I am afraid that people are not honest with their judgment and feel uncomfortable to show they have a novice beginner level of one skill. In our network, we have a culture of trust, so this was not a problem. We all are independent consultant, so we have no hierarchy on the team, and we are more open to discussing missing skills. For a company, it is important to have a company culture where people do not fear failures and can communicate openly and honestly.

I recommend making sure to have this culture in your team and give feedback to each other about individual skills to get the desired outcomes in the Competency Matrix. In my experience, people will be more engaged when you focus on positive outcomes rather than talking about failures. To get a positive mood in the conversation and evaluation, I would ask people what they would like to achieve in a project and what they need to.


Identifying the gaps

With the outcomes of the individual assessment and the current status, we could identify the gaps. We discussed the reasons why a skill is necessary to achieve our goals. After we agreed on the necessary skills, we wrote down the action items to close the competency gaps.

We used the following questions to decide about the action items:

  • What types of changes do we need to make?
  • What are the first steps we need to take as a group?
  • Who will work on what in the future?
  • What change will each person make personally based on our conversation today?

For us, it is important to ask about individual interests and who would like to develop a missing skill. I think personal interest is important to be motivated to learn new things.

For closing the gaps, we noted the following possible actions:

  • Identify training opportunities on the market
  • Hire a coach to help to develop a skill
  • Design an individual training plan
  • Enlarge our network (only if it is not realistic to develop the skills)

We do not expect everyone to have an expert level. We are a diverse team with personal interests and talents. For us, it is important to have the right and the required skill mix in the team/network.


What would I like to try out as a facilitator?

In the future, I would like to learn more about different models of skill levels and to try them out, for example, the Shu-Ha-Ri model:

  • Shu: In this beginning stage, the student follows the teachings of one master precisely.
  • Ha: At this point, the student begins to branch out.
  • Ri: Now the student is not learning from other people but from his own practice.

Furthermore, I would like to experiment with different numbers of skill levels than I used in this Team Competency Matrix session. When people are unsure how to judge their skill level, or they feel uncomfortable choosing the lowest or highest level, they will go for the mid-level (in this session the yellow one).


My experiences and key learnings

It is an easy-to-use tool that you can apply for any team to learn bout the strengths and weaknesses in your team. You focus on the competencies and skills you need to accomplish a task, a project, or close a gap in a team. The matrix helps you to hire the right talents and working better cross-functional with experts in your company.

Use a simple model to classify the skill level. When it’s getting to complex like 10 levels or even sublevels, people won’t understand the model. People might tend to the middle to not show zero levels of a skill, or because they think to choose the highest level is a bit arrogant. This behaviour depends on your company culture. You can experiment with the number of skill levels to get the best results.

Before working on the team competency matrix, I recommend making sure that there is enough trust between team members to have an open and honest communication about individual skill levels. Never expose or judge people.

You can set up personal development plans for each person in your team and aligned them with their personal goals. As you know the gaps you understand how to invest better in actions for closing the gaps like training.

It is not only a tool for personal and team development but also for improved task management. As you have an overview of the required skills and the team capabilities you can better direct tasks to the right people.

Creating the matrix should be a group activity. You can also do this remotely in an online team workshop.


Learn more about the Team Competency Matrix an Management 3.0.


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