How a Skills Matrix will help you and your team

skills matrix

Understanding the mixture of skills and experience in your team is critical for any leader. Creating a Skills Matrix is valuable because it helps you:

  • Understand the current skills and experience that exists within your team
  • Identify skill gaps, where there is a shortage of appropriate skills and experience
  • Pinpoint high-risk areas where you are relying on a single person to complete critical tasks
  • Plan the way forward when trying to introduce new skills or approaches to your team; and
  • Restructure your team to improve its effectiveness.

The best part is that a Skills Matrix is simple to create and maintain. It simply requires a little effort to understand the capabilities of your team. Keeping the Skills Matrix simple is key. Too much effort in maintaining the information in these types of tools can cause leaders to neglect them. The more complex you make it, will introduce a tendency to let the information go out of date and become useless.

How to create a Skills Matrix

1. Identify the key skills and experiences required for your team

The first step to create your Skills Matrix is identifying the key skills and experience that you want to record for your team members. Using a simple spreadsheet, create a table with each skill or experience item as a column heading.

When generating your list of skills and experience items, be sure to include:

  • Current skills: The skills that your team members use today to perform their duties.
  • Future skills: Skills that your team will need in the future as you plan to adopt new approaches, methods or technologies.
  • Current experiences: Current experiences include the context that a team member has worked within throughout their career. This may include industries, physical conditions or different types of work environments.
  • Future experiences: Future experiences include experience that you feel may be useful for team members to obtain in the future to support new ways of working for your team.

An example of a skill may be proficiency in a certain tool, method or technology. For example, you may add “Graphic Design” as a skill. However, if it is relevant, you may break this down further to list different types of graphic design or tools e.g. Graphic Design using Photoshop.

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Experiences refer to different contexts in which skills have been applied.

For example, you may list Executive Stakeholder Management as an experience, which represents having worked closely with senior executives at an organisation.

Note: This could also be considered a skill, but to be quite honest, as long as it exists on your list, it doesn’t matter!

You may add different industry experience here too e.g. Automotive, Retail, Oil & Gas.

To help organise the Skills Matrix, you may want to cluster similar skills or experiences together. Shading them a different colour may help you to see the different groupings more easily.

To include or not to include a skill?

You should only include skills or experiences in the Skills Matrix if they are relevant to the work that your team performs. If your team member has a lot of experience working in hospitals, but this has nothing to do with the work at hand (or in the future), then don’t include it.

If your team member is a highly skilled badminton player, this probably doesn’t matter either, so leave it out.

2. List the members of your team

The rows of your table should consist of the members of your team. Again, you may group the team members by category if there is a logical way to structure them.

By the end of this step, you should have an empty matrix. The skills and experiences are the column headings and the row headings are your team members.

3. Inventory the skills and experiences of your team members

Finally, you need to develop a skill and experience inventory for your team. At the intersection of each row and column, place a tick (✓) to indicate that the team member possesses the skill or experience. If not, leave the cell empty.

Rating skills

You *could* introduce a rating system for each skill, such as high, medium and low. However, this introduces a level of complexity that I feel is unnecessary. This starts to become more complex. How do you determine what comprises a low rating, compared to a medium?

Deciding whether a team member has a skill

When determining whether a team member has a skill or not, simply ask yourself whether the team member is able to use that skill autonomously. If so, then I’d suggest putting a tick in the box. An alternative approach is to introduce a time threshold e.g. at least three months working with a tool, method or system.

An additional aspect that can be useful to record is who is the most capable or senior within your team, for each skill and experience item. This may help you to differentiate between team members when it comes to team design. For these team members, you might use an asterisk (*) instead of the tick mark.

Deciding whether a team member has experience

Deciding whether someone has experience is a judgement call. You might choose an amount of time that you are comfortable with. For example, you may need your team member to have had at least six months working within a particular field to be counted as having experience. This is completely up to you.

The most important thing is that now you have a table representing the key skills and experiences of your team. For many of the future skills or experiences, the boxes will likely be empty to start with.

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How to use your Skills Matrix

We now have a table with all the relevant skills and experiences across the top. All the team members make up the rows of the table, on the left hand side.

Where a team member possesses a skill or experience, a tick (✓) or asterisk (*) is recorded, otherwise the cells are blank.

Use your Skills Matrix to identify skill gaps and high-risk areas

If there are key skills or experiences that are only possessed by a few team members, this may be a skill gap. A skill gap will make it difficult for your team to satisfy customer demand and potentially create a bottleneck.

A high-risk area is one where there is only a single team member who possesses an important skill for your team. If this team member resigns or cannot work for any reason, you’re going to have a potential crisis on your hands.

Both of these issues can be resolved by cross training your team to ensure that there are enough of the appropriate skills to satisfy customer demand and prevent disasters from occurring.

Use your Skills Matrix to plan for development opportunities

Some team members may only utilise a handful of skills and experience during their work. These employees may be candidates for training or mentoring in order to add variety and additional skills to their repertoire. When used in this way, the Skills Matrix becomes a valuable tool when it comes to performance management.

If you are planning to introduce new methods or tools to your team, you can use the Skills Matrix to plan for and record the training effort required. You simply need to decide how much of a given skill you need, then you can organise the level of training or on the job learning accordingly.

Use your Skills Matrix to structure your team more effectively

You may notice on your Skills Matrix that some employees have multiple relevant skills, where others only use a few in the course of their work. You can use this information to identify the specialists and generalists in your team.

Specialists don’t necessarily make for the best leaders as they often love to be involved in the technical work. However, there may be a case for delegating accountability to a technical specialist to play a lead role in their area of expertise.

For more information on delegating accountability in your team, download the Hold Your Team Accountable leadership guide.

You may also notice that there are many people with a given skill in your team, who work closely together. This might be an opportunity to create a sub-team to handle a particular aspect of your team’s work; all you need is to decide who should lead the sub-team.

You’re all set! You’ve created the Skills Matrix and identified key risk areas and development opportunities. All you need to do now is to maintain the information so that it remains relevant.

If you haven’t created your Skills Matrix yet, don’t fly blind. Learn more about the skills and experience of your team today. Reduce the risk and increase the development opportunities to improve your team performance.

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