Manage Team Capabilities Like a Portfolio: an Action Plan for Disruptive Talent Management

By JANA PAULECH

The success of a product ultimately comes down to the collective strengths of a well-rounded team. Building a complementary team means bringing together people whose individual abilities and expertise combine to create a modern day “super team”. In a product team, this could mean combining technical experts with creative thinkers, and strategists with analytical problem-solvers.

If you can start thinking of your team as a ‘portfolio’ of capabilities the benefits include:

  • Resilience: A team with a mix of capabilities is more resilient in terms of diversity of thought and the ability to tackle challenges from multiple angles because of their diverse life experience.

     

  • Adaptability: This approach allows teams to manage change adaptively and cultivate a team environment that not only adapts to change, but drives it. With complementary capabilities a team can quickly pivot when needed, and if market conditions change or new information comes to light, a well-rounded team can adjust their strategy more effectively.

     

  • Career Engagement: People who have the opportunity to keep learning, access new experiences, develop new skills, and nurture career growth, while being appreciated for their specific talents, are more engaged and committed team members.

There are a few steps to managing your portfolio of capabilities across the team.

Step 1: Map Team Capability

The first step to successfully managing complementary capabilities is to know what capabilities you already have in your team by mapping them out. 

Talent mapping is the development of a current state map of your talent, against a structured capability framework. If you have your own product capability framework, you can use this to map against, if not, you can use the Brainmates Product Capability Framework.

This allows you to get ahead of the curve and identify gaps before they negatively affect the business (because capability change takes time), and helps you fit together the moving parts of the engine that drives the product strategy. By identifying and understanding the strengths of each team member you can get a clearer picture of where you are, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there by setting the team up to work more effectively together.

At this stage make sure you are only looking at strengths of each team member (not opportunities for growth) and as a result you may see that:

  • You have several people with the same capabilities – this is not bad, but perhaps you need to look at diversifying.

  • You have gaps in capabilities that you may or may not need to fill urgently.

  • You have perfect coverage of all capabilities. In reality this rarely happens as teams are formed organically vs planned in most organisations. Make sure you are actually looking at exhibited strengths & not opinions.

Once you’ve identified individual capabilities, it’s time to assess how they fit together as a team, mapping gaps, overlaps, and opportunities for re-skilling.

Talk to us about implementing a Capability Framework and assessing capability at your organisation 

Example Talent Map using the Brainmates Capability Framework

Step 2: Identify Strategy Gaps

With an in-depth understanding of your team’s capabilities you can now take a look at what your talent needs to look like in the medium to long term to support your product, portfolio and business strategy.

We suggest approaching this as a ‘gap over time’ of capabilities to strategy. There will be short-term gaps that you need to fill straight away, as well as medium and long-term gaps that can be filled more strategically. This realisation is important for the next step as these gaps can be filled with different techniques.

Try looking at high level trends in your product, portfolio and business strategy and consider how these align with your capability map.

For example:

  • A strategy that involves discovering new markets would need strong capabilities in solution and market strategy. 

  • A strategy involving new product launches or re-positioning would need strong capabilities in market tactics and market strategy. 

  • A strategy involving significant strategic changes to the product (such as re-platforming) would need strong capabilities in solution strategy and tactics. 

  • A strategy to maintain performance of current portfolios without significant new investment would need strong capabilities in solution tactics.

Step 3: Filling Talent Gaps

Decreasing your ‘gap over time’ to strategy while increasing overall diversity, increases your product team’s resilience to disruption. Depending on how fast you need to fill a gap, you may be able to use different tactics.

Exploring a mix of talent management tactics supports engaging and retaining your organisations talent through diverse careers & development.

For example:

  • Consider hiring for immediate needs to quickly address short-term capability gaps and / or bring new capabilities into the organisation that you have limited or no current experience in across the team. Tailor your job ads and interview processes to target the specific capabilities needed (while working within your budget constraints) instead of asking for everything with a standard job add & interview.

     

  • Upskill for sustainable growth by developing existing team members to fill medium to long-term gaps. Focus on aligning individual aspirations with organisational needs through targeted learning and development programs, mentoring and coaching. However, be realistic about how long this process will take. Going from low or no capability to strength in that capability can take a year or more of targeted support. Ensure support goes beyond a training course and offers on-the-job support & feedback through coaching or mentoring.

     

  • Reskill to leverage internal talent by transitioning people from adjacent roles or creating entry points for junior talent to cost-effectively address medium to long-term needs with well structured transitioning programs. Ensure junior talent is matched to the correct roles that will allow for capabilities to be developed over time and ensure training & coaching investments are prioritised. For transitioning team members, ensure they get the day-to-day support they need for the first 6-12 months to really embed capabilities through mentoring & coaching.

     

  • Contract for flexibility, employ contractors to manage large or urgent capability gaps or when a need is temporary. This strategy allows for flexibility and frees up permanent staff to focus on core initiatives. Maintain relationships with trusted contracting partners, such as Brainmates, who have a diverse pool of skilled professionals that can also mentor your team.

Step 4: Managing Complementary Skill Sets

Complementary teams excel at working together to ensure needs are met with their combined capabilities. It’s an effective strategy that’s growing in popularity over the more traditional practice of binding people to one area of the business from start to finish. This allows for greater flexibility when things change, as they invariably do, and adaptability makes for more resilient teams. 

To effectively manage complementary teams you’ll need to look at your team culture, development practices, career paths & roles. There are a few behaviours we have observed in organisations that manage complimentary teams well – they:

  • Value diversity and mobility: Building teams that appreciate diverse experiences and the opportunity to move around within the business.
  • Implement continuous capability assessments: Regularly evaluating their team’s capability and its alignment with strategy using a capability framework to effectively measure and manage capability.
  • Optimise roles and responsibilities: Identifying opportunities to strategically distribute responsibilities to sharpen focus on critical product capabilities. This includes looking at supporting roles and considering if some areas are more open or amenable to learners. For example, you could identify the potential for supporting or more junior roles to cover appropriate responsibilities.
  • Facilitate job sharing and pairing: Being open to less traditional role structures allows for capabilities to be spread across the team and it’s an approach that can extend beyond mentoring, allowing for shadowing while driving team outcomes.
  • Develop a talent mobility strategy: Fostering a culture where talent mobility is integrated into career paths and organisational structures. This prepares teams to thrive in dynamic environments and effectively adapt to changes.

  • Manage change adaptively: Cultivating a team environment that adapts to change can be a challenge for team members who prefer stability. In this case, consider creating roles with less fluctuation, and understand that directly linking adaptability to career progression and incentives may not suit everyone.

At Brainmates we’re shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of complementary teams. We believe that businesses can reap the benefits of more resilient, engaged, and adaptable teams by taking this approach.

Every product evolves from ideation to launch and beyond. Different capabilities are required for each product lifecycle stage in order to effectively navigate challenges. Ultimately, tailoring talent management to match these specific needs ensures that the right people are in place at each stage of the product life-cycle, empowering them to have maximum impact and deliver exceptional products.

Talk to us about our Product Capability Services

About The Author

Jana Paulech

Principal Consultant & Strategy Lead - Brainmates

Jana is an intellectually curious problem solver who’s super power is seeing the connections across diverse problems and industries. With a background in academic research and education, Jana received her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, before moving into corporate advisory and product management across consulting and technology.

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