How Great Leaders Bridge Knowledge Gaps in Product Teams
As a team leader, you want to be friends with your teams. You want to uplift them and empower them to do their best work, meet their targets, and grow as professionals. In the spirit of uplifting them, It can seem uncomfortable to point out what they don’t know.
Part of being a leader is being able to be constructively critical of your teammates, and that means being able to address their knowledge gaps.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
Listen to your teams
Many employees will feel apprehensive just openly asking for training. If you’re lucky, they’ll have done their own research on courses they want to take, or certifications they want to pursue.
But it’s more likely that you’ll have to listen to what they’re saying, and figure out for yourself what it is they want to learn about.
If you genuinely listen to your teammates, then they’ll let you know what skills they feel they’re missing out on.
“Here are the wireframes I’ve been working on. It’s been a while since I did anything like that, so let me know if they’re ok.”
This employee might appreciate some product design training.
When you spot an opportunity for growth within your teams, don’t lead with ‘you don’t know X’, lead with ‘ here’s how you can learn more about X.’
For example, instead of saying:
“I noticed that there are a lot of mistakes when you work with data, and there are key insights that you’re missing.”
Try saying something like:
“Hey, I came across something that might interest you. It’s this new book about being more data-driven, I read it over the weekend and found it really useful. You can have my copy if you’d like.”
Why does this approach work better? First, because it shows that you’re also personally looking to learn and grow your skillset. Admitting that you don’t know everything and you also need to brush up on some things. This helps your teammates feel more comfortable talking about their shortcomings with you.
It also helps you to see who in your team is more hungry to learn, and more willing to accept help. Of course, you’re not going to fire someone just because they don’t read the book you leant to them! But if you’re ever in a situation where you need to assign something brand new to your teammates, you’ll know who is the most willing to pick up new skills, and who is the most excited to dive in and gain new knowledge.
Check out: Top 10 Courses for Product Managers
Foster a culture of learning
This is quite a subtle technique, but it can have a huge impact on the atmosphere among your team members. If you’ve hired the right people, there should already be a culture of learning and growing in your teams. Product Managers are naturally quite curious.
If your teams are suffering from a serious skills gap, it might be time to further foster this learning environment and take your teams learning to the next level.
It could mean keeping a slack channel open for sharing learning materials, like book and podcast recommendations, or sharing useful blog articles. People naturally like to help each other learn, and to learn from each other. If they have a medium for sharing resources, they’re very likely to use it.
Offering to pay for things like conference tickets, books, and courses is also a great way to encourage people to take the opportunity to learn.
Get cross-functional teams involved
You’re interested in having your teams learn about everything that goes on in your business. The advantage of that is that you have all the tools you need within your company!
Asking your designers to give a talk on good UX design practices for the rest of the team, or one of your data scientists to run a data workshop, not only exposes your teams to new knowledge, but it can be a great team building activity.
You could set up a monthly learning meeting, where a team member with a certain speciality gives a mini talk or a demonstration on something they’re an expert in. This helps to build the skillset across the team, but it also fosters respect and understanding among your teammates.
Run a skills gap analysis
The first step in addressing knowledge gaps in teams, is to understand where those gaps lie. While this is normally something that comes under the scope of HR, it’s usually something that you can request in a larger organization, or run for yourself if you’re in a smaller startup environment.
Make sure your teams know that you’re running this analysis in order to prove that they deserve resources for training and growth, not because you’re trying to scrutinize their performance and punish them for not being skilled in certain areas.
Change the way you hire. This won’t be particularly helpful to your current employees, but if you’ve been using the same job postings for years, you might need to go back and update them. Some skills aren’t as useful as they used to be, and your evolving team/product will need a new skillset.
How to Run a Skills Gap Analysis
As a team leader, you’re more likely to run a skills gap analysis for individual team members than you are for the entire department. Company-wide skills gaps will be run by HR, but if you’re planning on asking for resources for your team, it’s good to have some kind of data to prove that they’re necessary.
Step 1: Identify skills
Figure out which skills are the most necessary in your teams. Include the ones your team are already proficient at, because it’s more useful to have a 360 view of your team’s skills rather than just a list of their shortcomings.
Step 2: Measure skills
This one is easier than it sounds, once you’ve found a way to quantify your team’s skills. It could be as simple as asking them to rate their proficiency level on a scale from 1–10. (This is why it’s important for them to know that this analysis is being conducted to help them grow — they’ll be much less likely to lie!)
Step 3: Take action
You’ve identified the skills that are missing in your team, and you’ve identified the skills that are the most useful to your company right now and in the future. Now it’s time to help management understand why they need to invest in training your team.
Convincing Management To Sign Off On Training
For the huge impact it has on the success of a company, employee training sometimes feels like the last thing on upper management’s list of priorities. But if your employees aren’t allowed to grow, your company cannot grow. In a worst case scenario, your employees might up and leave for a company who values their development more than you do.
If you’re the person who gets the final say in whether your teams get a certain budget for training, and you’ve made it this far through this article, then you’re probably already convinced that it’s a great idea.
But if you’re the person who needs to advocate for team training and convince your boss to allocate a budget for training, you might be sat there thinking “well how the heck am I supposed to do that?!”
You might also be interested in: How to Convince Your Boss (Based On Your Personality)
One thing you have to remember is that your boss cares about business goals, and you need to convince them that investing in your teams skills and knowledge is another step towards achieving your business goals!
Is Product Management Training Worth It?
Product Management training is a fantastic investment in your team. Our online product management courses and certificate programs give individuals and teams alike the power to build great digital products, learn vital product leadership skills, and grow their Product Management careers.
All courses are taught by real world product professionals at the top of their game, using their own experience in building successful products, to train the next generation of product people.
Got questions about what it’s like to train your teams with Product School? We’ve got the answers!
I’m Carlos González, CEO at Product School, and I enjoy sharing weekly tips for Product leaders!
This article was also published on The Product Management Blog.