When I find people in my team who are particularly strong in some area of work I get itchy. Of course it’s great that they have those skills—whether it’s with a particular technology, a strength in technical design, domain expertise—but then the gap with others becomes more apparent. I want other team members to have those skills.
There are lots of reasons for this, of course. The team (and organisation) as whole becomes more skilled and stronger. It stops all work of that specialist nature always going to that one person, which may become repetitive. Having other team members take on that kind of work frees up the original member to develop in other areas. And of course it de-risks the team in case that individual should leave or just go on holiday for a bit.
So it’s important that the skilled individual spreads their skills around, to strengthen everyone.
Recently I came across a useful phrase to distinguish skills where one works alone and skills that get shared to others: additive skills and multiplicative skills.
Additive skills add to the team. For example, if we have three people with data analysis skills and we add another person with the same skills then our total data analysis capability has increased by one.
Multiplicative skills increase the individual skills for everyone—it’s a multiplier effect. For example, being able to teach data analysis to people will have a much greater benefit than just having one more person who can do it.
There are other kinds of multiplicative skills, too. For example, changing processes for the better to increase quality and throughput. These have benefits across many people.
I think the concept of additive skills and multiplicative skills is a powerful one, and I’m going to use it in future as another way to explain the power and value of skills transfer and collaboration.