With complementary skills

4 min read

The members of a real team should have a series of complementary skills, which when added are able to solve the challenges they face every day. These skills are not only technical or functional, but they are also decision-making, conflict-solving and interpersonal skills, which allow them to find a mutual understanding and a common purpose.

Personally, I see two common mistakes in the companies when it comes to forming teams.

On one hand, there are managers who form teams of specialists who share skills, generating knowledge silos, and expecting the different teams to be the ones interacting among themselves to create products or services. The consequence of this approach is the lack of responsibility for the final product, none of the teams are entirely responsible, but instead, they are only accountable for a part of it.

I usually use the metaphor of a record company to illustrate this situation:

Imagine that you are the CEO of a record company. Your company manages four music bands, each of these is formed by a vocalist, a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer. In total, there are sixteen musicians. One day, they decide to move to bigger offices, and in the new offices there are four spaces for four people each, let´s call them composition studios. When they move, they have to decide how to distribute the sixteen musicians in four different teams, with each one of them in one of the four composition studios. They have two options, 1) a music group in each composition studio or 2) all the vocalists in one studio, the guitarists in another, the bassists in another and the drummers in another studio. Which of these two options would you choose as CEO? From my point of view, option 1 is the only option which would allow for the teams to feel they are the owners/authors of the products they are creating.

On the other hand, another common mistake in companies is to form teams paying too much attention to complementing skills. Managers tend to look for people with different profiles and specialties, so as to complete the puzzle providing the team with absolutely all the necessary skills. The way I see it, small teams need people who can perform different roles, according to what is needed. It is not necessary for everyone to know absolutely everything, you only need a team of people who can assist each other, and who can learn new skills and flow instead of rigid people who only know how to do one thing.

Many of the skills can be learned and developed, it is not necessary for them to exist from the moment the team is created. Self-organization and commitment with a common purpose of the members of a real team will allow them to identify together the skills that are lacking, to later develop such skills based on the individual responsibility of each member to the team as a whole.

“I” profile vs. “T” profile

To foster cooperation by means of the complementary skills, real teams can rely on the notion of “T” profiles.

The concept of “T” profiles is used to identify professionals who have a main ability (represented by the vertical line of the letter T) and can also develop ramifications to other skills (represented by the horizontal line of the letter T).

This identification of profiles was promoted in the mid 2000s by Tim Brown1, as opossed to “I” profiles, who develop a single skill and specialize exclusively on it.

In a real team, we need professionals who cooperate with each other, not only who work together. People who are able to help each other and transmit knowledge to develop new skills.


In a real team, we need professionals who cooperate with each other, not only who work together.

Photograph: Scrum by David @ Flickr


1. Tim Brown, Strategy by Design, Fast Company, June 2005.