5 Options For Developing Your Team’s Skills

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Last updated on
19th Apr, 2021
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23rd Jul, 2016
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5 Options For Developing Your Team’s Skills

I’d love to always be able to choose the right people for my projects but in practice that rarely happens. My teams are made up of the people I inherit, or the people who are available. And that’s not a bad thing: my colleagues are always enthusiastic.

But sometimes the people that you work with don’t have the right skills to do the precise job that you need right now. When that happens, we need to quickly improve the skills in the team to get them to where they need to be. Then they can contribute more effectively and overall you’ll get more done in the right way.

Here are 5 ways that you can develop the skills in your team.

1. Workshadowing

Workshadowing is where you put someone who needs to brush up their skills alongside someone who already has those skills. The learner gets to see how their colleague does things in real life, plus they are exposed to experiences that they might not get in their existing role. It’s a good way to let people get on-the-job learning without having to pay for training.

Of course, it does cost you something, as the person who is being workshadowed will probably spend longer completing their tasks when they have someone following them about. They’ll also need to be patient and able to cope with the multitude of questions.

In itself, workshadowing might not be enough. It’s good for seeing how tasks are done and for gaining exposure, but unless it’s paired with a formal knowledge transfer then it’s really just about dipping your toes in the water of the topic. People tend to only workshadow for a short period of time so there’s a limit to how much you can improve someone’s skills in that window.

Pros: Workshadowing is super easy to set up and virtually free.

Cons: You need to find someone with the right skills, the time to pass them on and an attitude that makes them a good teacher.

2. Mentoring

Mentoring has the same approach of pairing an experienced person with someone less experienced. But the arrangement is more formal, and instead of simply observing what the more experienced person is doing, the mentee (the person being mentored) can get more advice and help by asking questions, normally within a more formal framework.

Pairs meet regularly to talk about issues that the less experienced person is having. Think of it as ‘taking someone under your wing’ or a bit like a buddy scheme. Another benefit is that the mentor can introduce their mentee to others in their network: not only are you getting access to their experience and their brain but also the practical resources that they can offer through connections.

Pros: Being a mentor is a good career opportunity for your more senior staff as it helps them develop a range of leadership skills. It’s relatively easy to set up but does take some time to match people to good mentors.

Cons: Mentoring works best when there is a semi-formal or formal framework in place with the support of the wider organization. Without this, an informal relationship is likely to fall apart due to the pressures of having to do the day job. You need both parties to commit to finding time to take part in mentoring, and be committed to the success of their pairing. When pairs have a personality clash, the relationship and the benefits you were expecting from mentoring, become diluted.

3. Coaching

Coaching is different from training in that coaching is less about offering advice and more about helping others find their own solutions in a way that is going to be most effective for them. It’s less about ‘when I do that I do it like this’ and more ‘how could you do it and be successful’?

There’s a huge skill in coaching which is why coaches normally have formal training and accreditation.

If there are people in your team who need support with the softer skills of management and leadership then this is a powerful option, but if they need to be directed in how to complete their work, or they are starting from scratch, coaching might not be the best tool for improving their skills.

Pros: Coaching is hugely powerful and confidence-boosting.

Cons: Coaching takes time to implement because you’ll either have to train staff internally to act as coaches (it’s different to mentoring) or buy in resources to offer the coaching service to you.

4. Training

You were wondering when I’d get to training, weren’t you?
Training is the option most people think about first when they consider how to improve the skills of their team. You’ve got lots of training options:

• Running courses in-house by experienced internal resources
• Bringing a trainer in to the company to teach on your premises
• Sending the relevant team members to classroom courses
• Online training, which could be self-directed or trainer-led (read more about when to use online training)

And I’m sure as technology develops we’ll see even more options and hybrids blending these different options to make a course delivery method that works perfectly for your team.

Training isn’t a quick fix because you need to take what you have learned and apply it to your day-to-day activities so there is that transition period when you return from your course.

Training does have to be clearly matched to the needs of the person receiving the training. There’s no point, for example, of sending someone on a general IT management course when actually what they need is ITIL® Foundation.

Pros: Training is perfect when you need your team to get accredited in a particular skill. It’s a fast way to improve their competence.

Cons: Training is probably the most expensive of all these options (although coaching can be pretty pricey too). You need to make sure that they have the time to apply and use their new skills in the workplace otherwise you’ll find they quickly go back to their old ways of working.

5. Supporting Their Learning

When someone is keen to learn independently, your role as a manager might just be to support their efforts. Many ambitious people across IT and project management are prepared to study for and take certification and professional development courses through their own motivation and you should encourage this and support as necessary.

Support could, of course, be financial, such as helping with course costs, fees, and training materials. It could also be practical, such as offering time off for study or exams.

You can also help your team members take on more self-directed learning in a more direct way, by giving them time to work on their professional development inside working hours and providing them with the resources they need, such as books or websites on the topic.

Pros: Self-directed learning is the most hands-off for the manager and is very cheap to implement.

Cons: Finding reputable sources for self-directed learning ccan be hard. There are plenty of websites with tutorials, checklists and videos that will help you learn about almost anything, but you need to be confident in the material and the quality of the trainer. Self-directed learning relies heavily on the motivation of individuals. People may be keen to study and improve their skills, but are they developing in areas where you really need them to?

As you can see, there are lots of options for boosting the skills in your team, and this list has probably given you other ideas too. Think carefully about what is right for your team and the skills that they need to develop.

And if you choose training as a possible way forward, check out the Knowledgehut online training catalogue to see what you could study today

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Elizabeth Harrin

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Elizabeth Harrin is the author of Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World, Social Media for Project Managers and Customer-Centric Project Management. She also writes the award-winning blog, Subscribe to Elizabeth's newsletter for more updates.