Complementary Skills: How to Build a Rockstar Team that Really Works Together

Complementary Skills: How to Build a Rockstar Team that Really Works Together

The value of a complementary team, the no 1 way to unlock complementary skills and 4 steps to do it right in your company today

By our #CompanyCulture team

Complementary skills, why it’s important and how to unlock it for your team.

Have you ever seen a big team sports event where all the players are trying to perform the same function? A rugby match without any forwards; everyone trying to play fullback? Or a soccer/football match with no forwards, midfield or defenders, just 22 would-be goalies jostling each other in the net.

Seems obvious when you put it that way, but it’s astounding how, in our companies, we try and nurture complementary teams yet give employees all the same, old, stock-standard training and skills development.

Think about it: how tailored to the individual is your onboarding process? And their ongoing development? Because, in truth, no two managers are the same – even two people with the exact same job in the exact same department are not the same. So how on earth can we expect them to function like a fully cooperative machine?

Here’s what you should know about building a really powerful complementary team:

What do complementary skills mean in a team?

In the most basic form, you already have a sense of complement throughout your entire company – different departments with differently skilled/qualified people doing different functions that all come together (complement) each other so that the whole (company) can work.

But then we fail to apply the same thinking when it comes to a team level. Skill is not the same as qualification.

A team of 7 equally experienced accountants, for example, are not 7 equally skilled people. Just like they’re all identifiable as individuals, each one has natural talents and inclinations, which can be honed into skills.

One might have an “influencing” skill that’s better at helping you secure funding and capital for expansion, while another is more of a “futurist” that can help you do better risk analysis, for example.

And neither of those might be very fond of the day-to-day books. For that, there’s a third accountant who absolutely adores the books side of things.

If you force all 3 to focus on books, your first two will lose interest and leave. And vice versa.

Complimentary skills in a team mean both 1) knowing the individual talents and 2) structuring the team and duties to make use of each person’s natural skills to get the best out of everyone at the end of the day.

Why is creating a complementary team important?

Recently, the first study of its kind surveyed the opinion of MBA graduates with work experience. And a staggering 78% say most of the companies they’ve worked in can’t succeed because their teams don’t have the right mix of complementary skills.  

And, in 2018 a US-Turkish collaboration, a team of researchers found that when you have high specialisation and skills-mix-focussed team development actually increased people’s performance and output.

That’s why we say ensuring a team with complementary skills is a vital key to building a high-performance culture.

Great. So how do you do that?

How to build a team with complementary skills

Number 1: Instead of trying to develop your team members to be good at everything in their field/scope/description/area of expertise, why not develop each individual in those specific areas they have a natural ability/talent for?

And then, partner them up with people with complementary skills.

This means 1) they will never have to work in an area of personal weakness again – if they’re not good at admin but excel at making sales, let someone else who thrives on paperwork do the books and allow your salesperson to just sell.

And 2) this means you’ll likely see more sales and 3) everyone will be more content and able to focus and hone their individual skills.

And it just so happens we have a very cool 4-step process to do exactly that:

4 Steps to Building a team with complementary skills

1. A trusted method to identify and understand people’s individual skills

Trying to identify individual skills yourself is tricky and time-consuming – you’d get no other work done for months and you’ll likely get it wrong (we can’t see into other people’s minds).

That’s where tried and tested methods of classification come in. Now, you might have some other tool/system. But the one we’ve found most effective in over 20 years of working with teams and cultures, is Gallup Strengths

In our own business, and with many clients, we use Gallup Strengths as the starting point for any development journey. Simply because it’s proven the most effective.

What it allows us to do is to very accurately identify each individual’s unique skills and talents – and it’s proven quite effective: the odds of 2 people having the same strengths skillset is 33 million to 1 (see the full list of strengths). And we’ve never come across two identical skill sets thus far.

You can get more insights in our sister site’s post: what are strengths?

2. A proven method to develop specific strengths in people

Now, as you might have gathered, we’re specialists in developing people’s strengths. And, although there are many companies that offer basic Gallup Strengths as a service, most of them only help you with Point 1 above (discovering your team’s strengths).

What’s crucial is finding someone that can take the next step – actually create individual development plans for your people on their strengths journey.

When we start a journey, for example, we don’t even refer to natural inclination as “strengths” yet. We call them talents. Then we create a unique development plan for them to level-up to skills and strengths status.

If you need help or advice on this part, get in touch.

3. Partner up the right people with complementary skills

Once you have a clear picture of the skills mix within your team, and you can see who is progressing well along their development journey, you can start looking at how to restructure the team and roles so that everyone does mainly what they’re good at and love.

No better way to get the best out of people!

4. Tweak people’s job descriptions so they can use their skills fully

Another vital step that’s often left out is actually adapting your business “systems” to reflect the new skills-based team dynamics.

If you rejig your team with complementary skills, but never change the job descriptions, for example, HR will have no direction on who to hire to replace a person who might leave. And then you might get a skills mismatch in the future.

So, it’s important to adapt your business documentation and systems, like a job description, for example, to reflect how the person will use their skills and strengths during most of their day.

It just makes it official and ensures continuity.

That’s how we function in a high-performance culture.

Need some help getting the balance of the right skills in your team? Ask us here.


See the 7 keys to create open communication in your company.

Learn how to use KPIs and metrics to improve performance.

Discover 5 simple ways to build more trust in teams.

And see how to develop leaders that are inclusive.

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