Cheat sheet: mapping team skills to nurture internal culture

I spend a lot of my time focused on ‘whats’ and ‘whys.’ Changing gears, here’s a little ‘how’ nugget on growing teams and nurturing culture. I’m sharing something I created in a prior role, and over time I’ve found a handful of the organizations I’ve worked with have benefited from this. So I’m sharing it with you.

It’s not uncommon for leaders in quickly growing agencies and departments to rely on certain people for certain things—Joe’s a specialist in X and Y. Sara’s a pro at A, B and C. While that’s helpful much of the time, it can lead to problems: an overdependence on some people, and underutilization of others.

A while back I launched a skills inventory initiative at CP+B to address this. As I began, I realized my incentives expanded beyond resourcing—the skills inventory could address our growth as a group, inform how we see ourselves and help others leverage our strengths.

I initially had four specific questions that I wanted to address:

  1. Who’s expert at what?
  2. Who’s conversant in particular skills/topics, but not necessarily an expert?
  3. Who has no skills in one area, but wants to learn more?
  4. And finally: who has no skills in an area, and has zero interest in learning more?

What then? I created a Google Drive doc and invited team members to collaborate. Each person was asked to identify their own areas of expertise, interest, etc. It looked something like this when it was finished:

Once it was completed, I printed it out and put a large-format version of this on the wall in a highly visible space. The takeaways were many—and most of them surprised me. Here are four.

First: we learned something about ourselves. Some of us didn’t know Phil won an Emmy. Or that Sara was an ethnographer in a prior life. Or that Tony was a sound engineer in the evening. Or that there was a huge gap in one area where I thought we each had fundamental knowledge. Seeing all this this added dimensionality to our team members—and this makes effective collaboration more likely.

Second: although we benefited from what I think of as a very advanced design culture, the holes in our understanding or abilities were explicitly clear. So in those moments when you need someone to fill in for you in a client meeting or big presentation, you would know exactly who’s going to rock it, and who shouldn’t be tossed in the den because they play a very different game.

Third: we had a high-probability learning snapshot. Most organizations want their people to evolve in one way. Some have no idea if that maps to their own employees’ interests. Which makes learning initiatives a gamble. Those blue spots: that’s what people in our team want to learn. If those interests map to my goals for the organization, that’s a natural opportunity for true growth.

Fourth: internal PR wins. I took to the plotter and printed this on the wall because I wanted to amplify our talents within our group. What I found is that—especially when the artifact is designed well and placed in a high-traffic area—many others in the organization stopped to gaze and make sense of it. Which sparked new conversations among others who may not know us well or properly tap into our abilities.

There are countless ways to organize and articulate a skills inventory. I’m the first to admit all of them initially seem like very dry but perhaps necessary tools. But when I considered this beyond resourcing, as a tool for mirroring and evolving our culture, it’s something that added value with each quarterly iteration.

If you’re interested: I have a simple Google template available and am happy to share if you’d like a jumpstart. My only request: if you use it, you must improve on it and share your progress with me. Email me: if you’d like access.