In this series, Collaborate Like a Pro, we’re breaking down three aspects of successful collaboration. The last post was dedicated to explaining Alignment. This post focuses on the next key element, Authority. Authority in this context of collaboration IS NOT the authority that comes from a title or tenure. It IS the authority that comes from experience, knowledge and skill. Everyone has a skill, talent or knowledge that makes them valuable to a collaborative effort. People involved in a project need to understand how their skills and the skills of others can come together to create the best possible solutions. Once your group has achieved alignment and everyone knows why they’re working to make an improvement, they need to know how they’ll contribute to the project’s success. By clarifying our roles and knowing our skill level, we define our authority.

Leveraging skills, experience, and knowledge is easy and starts by building a simple grid. This grid is called the Skills Matrix. It clearly defines the scope of authority for each of the group’s members. The Skills Matrix is made up of three key elements:

  1. Resources: The people involved in a project or effort
  2. Competencies: The skills necessary to execute a project
  3. Competency Levels: The skill level of each of your resources on each of the necessary competencies

Building and reviewing the Skills Matrix ensures that all members of the team are aware of their roles and that they know where to apply their strengths to achieve success for the project. If everyone understands each other’s skills and abilities, they can do a better job of leveraging those skills. Everyone will be able to see skill set gaps, training opportunities, and where the team has a wealth of skill.

The first step in building a Skills Matrix is to list the competencies necessary for a particular effort. In a casting shop this list might include investing, casting, devesting, etc. It’s essential that everyone has the same interpretation of what skills are encompassed by each competency. (For example, the general competency of investing can be broken down into a group of specific skills such as the ability to calculate water: powder ratios, equipment maintenance, knowledge of a variety of investment types, and the ability to describe and teach the investing process to others.)

The next step is to list the resources available for the particular effort or project. The sample matrix below shows a grid with eight resources. This represents a team or group that works together doing similar or closely related tasks.

The third and most crucial step is to define each resource’s level of competency so that everyone understands how they rate in relation to one another and in relation to the competency level required to successfully execute the project. Scoring approaches can vary, but our sample starts with a “-” indicating no skill or training and proceeds to a “5,” which indicates subject matter expertise (SME) in a particular competency. The following list is a common progression for defining competency levels.

“-” = Associate needs training

“1” = Associate has started training, needs direct supervision to perform skill

“2” = Associate is learning, can perform skill with assistance

“3” = Associate can perform skill with limited assistance

“4” = Associate can perform skill without assistance

“5” = Associate is a subject matter expert (SME) and can troubleshoot issues and teach others to perform this competency

Here’s an example of a Skills Matrix:

What can we learn about the team members and their skill level? Without knowing the person or the actual skills, you can see that Team Member A is very skilled, an SME, and has likely trained most of the team to some degree. Team Member E is most likely new to the team and has a great deal of learning ahead. We can also see that we don’t have any SMEs in competencies 2, 3, and 5.

This matrix becomes a guide for the team members individually and the team as a whole. Those who need training can clearly see what they need to learn and who can mentor them. Team members with the skills and experience can clearly identify where they can help to develop others. As technologies and methods change, a team may need to invest in outside learning, or they may need to hire a person with a specific skill set to fill knowledge and skill gaps. This tool helps make the learning, training, and development of the team a collaborative effort. The Skills Matrix makes development transparent, measurable, and actionable.

This matrix has other benefits. Beyond allowing a team to leverage their strengths and mitigate their deficiencies, the collaboration can be expanded to involve other resources. We can’t always hire to fill a gap or cover an intermittent spike in demand. By sharing and combining these grids across linked teams, we can develop a deeper pool of resources to eliminate production bottlenecks. When work accumulates in one area you can shift resources to help clear the queue. By developing the skill sets of all your available manpower, you maximize the performance of your production facility. Additionally, crossing roles increases visibility and accountability. Cross training and resource shifting provide an individual who aspires to develop his or her skills the opportunity to do so. Skills development contributes to job satisfaction and in turn increases the retention of valuable employees. Dormant synergies between linked processes and resources are realized. Collaboration that wasn’t considered before becomes natural and driven by the people doing the work as they understand the benefits of working together.

The blaming and criticizing common in operationally segregated environments evaporates. Where acrimony once got in the way of constructive communication, intra- and inter-departmental communication becomes focused on opportunities for improving quality and efficiency.

Where and how can you utilize this simple tool in your business to increase efficiency and develop people?