New team skills are the skills that employees need in the new knowledge-based economy. This isn’t anything new, nor is it a surprise.

In their 2012 document called Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment, CEB, the leading member-based advisory company, surveyed over 1,500 employees and executives. One of the conclusions they came to was that employee trends suggest that employees are reaching a limit to their workload, but executives need a 20% lift in workforce productivity. The trends they identified include:

  • Frequent organizational change
  • More interdependent work
  • An increase in knowledge work

Skills, they are a-changin…

Employers used to value employees who brought technical skills to the organization. Now, companies value employees who bring a different, more diffuse set of skills, as discussed in Mind the Gap, by the Aldersgate Group, 2009.

In the CEB report, the most valuable skill is the ability to prioritize, and the least valuable skill is technical expertise (on a scale of 10).

Kirstin Olson (principal of Old Sow Consulting, author of Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture) writes for, and identified the following list of characteristics/skills for the new employee:

  1. Highly adaptive: “Change is the only constant in most organizational systems” is becoming a cliché. The capacity to take on new roles and embrace new ways of thinking are critical.
  2. Asks great questions: Diagnosing a problem as it is occurring, and responding appropriately are critical.
  3. Voraciously curious: Because a great employee now needs to be a great learner, being voraciously curious is key to high productivity and breakthrough thinking.
  4. Sees patterns in disparate information: Old-style work environments required employees who could effectively respond, but new market conditions demand the ability to proactively “see” what’s happening in the market synthetically, and to be able to communicate it to others.
  5. Team players: While some businesses tolerate “brilliant jerks,” today’s competitive business environment demands individuals who are deeply cooperative and have skills to help groups thrive and be productive. Employees should understand their thinking is improved by collaboration and diversity, and have the interpersonal skills to add to the team.
  6. Good resource managers: Do best with less is a critical new skill as the world downsizes and gets focused on using, owning, and consuming less stuff.
  7. Enthusiastic about people and relationships: “Spirited workplaces” are filled with individuals who are creative communicators, who are affirming of others and attentive to how their interactions with other make people feel, says business consultant Barbara Glanz, in her book 180 Ways to Spread Contagious Enthusiasm.
  8. Admits to mistakes: New research describes how adaptive learning requires mistake making -- you can’t go forward without experimenting. Really able learners make lots of mistakes and are able to glean important lessons from them.
  9. Learning as pleasure: The new employee should have passions and side projects, just because they love it and it’s fun.

How do we enable them?

No surprise, this is about adjusting leadership skills and re-orienting how employees work. For leaders, the most important skills are:

  1. Transparency – sharing successes and challenges, being self-aware and acknowledging strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Clearly communicate and repeat the high level business objectives – align employee goals to enterprise contribution. Consistent and repeated vision is essential for employees to remain focused in a high-change environment.
  3. Be curious – don’t have all the answers. The new leader can step out of the expert role and be willing to ask questions and look for advice from team members.
  4. Understand the latest trends – be in on the latest trends and always consider how bigger global issues will affect their ability to lead effectively.
  5. Be a flawless follower – the old autocrat model doesn't work in the new economy. Gen X and Y workers expect leaders to also be part of the team. That means leaders need skills at following as well as leading.
  6. Enterprise-driven C-Suite – C-level executives must be team-oriented, focusing on the good of the business rather than being an individual hero.
  7. Adjust management approaches – create guided stretch roles and deliberate long-term employee development plans, as well as ensuring that key teams include “connectors” (people who connect key people) and informed skeptics to teach collaboration and how to apply judgment.
  8. Target effective technology investments – Build backward from employee needs rather than forward from broad business needs. Technology investments must be user-centered, and inclusive rather than business-centric and restrictive. Fix accessibility and usability – employees need trustworthy, easy-to-find, usable data.

Why is a UX Architect writing about this?

UX teams are being increasingly asked to participate in shifting business environments. Why?

  • UX teams already have the skills to help teams and managers create these environments. The same issues that organizations are experiencing in a macrocosm, UX teams have been working with for years in a microcosm, adjusting process, etc., to fit changing methodologies while keeping the focus firmly on the user. These skills include:
      • Advanced diagnostic skills. In software, UX teams use those skills to uncover root causes rather than focusing on symptoms.
      • User focus. This includes research to set user-centered goals, design for those goals, testing to ensure those goals were met.
  • UX teams are central to the kind of targeted technology investments businesses need. Businesses in transition can benefit from a dedicated team that helps to ensure that the software is both useful and usable, and that it helps employees meet their enterprise driven goals.
  • UX teams aren’t just about software. Increasingly, UX teams are being asked to help design everything from software to services to processes to floor plans. The underlying UX best practices apply to multiple solution types rather than being restricted to software.

What does this mean to you?

The world is changing whether we want it to or not. Successful businesses are embracing this change, and are living through the bumps and bruises associated with the level of change required. Engaging with a UX team can help businesses to avoid some of the more common pot-holes in the road to change, while maximizing the benefit the change brings to the employees and the business. All of which creates more customer value and more customer loyalty.


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