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How to Maintain and IMPROVE Competence in Yourself and Your Team

Military service people are given thorough training in their respective specialties, whether you are an Aircraft Mechanic, or Infantryman. In some cases, their lives—and the lives of others—depend on very specific, competent, and timely performance. The Navy Seal team that eliminated Osama bin Laden showed their competence in accomplishing their mission.

You want to be competent and work with competent teammates. To do specialized work in business, such as writing a Request for Proposal (RFP), designing a new product, or creating financial statements, you need appropriate experience and skill. You need to know what you are doing.

Competence also includes an ability to work comfortably with others. Recently, I called a government agency, and felt like I was annoyance for this person. She was abrupt, and unfriendly, and did the bare minimum of what she had to do. At the end of the strained conversation I felt compelled to say something, and said: “You could have been friendlier”.  Her response was to say: “I WAS” friendly’.  Not in my book.

On teams that require much interaction, it is not enough to know what you are doing; you must also be able to be comfortable to work with. For example, if you need to collaborate closely with other members of a project team or with customers you MUST possess a high level of social sensitivity, what many know as “soft” skills.

Adapt to the different communication styles of the people you are working with. Some people are very businesslike, and are not comfortable making small talk.  Adapt. For others, they will be uncomfortable when you are TOO businesslike. Work to improve these skills, and to keep them sharp.  For most of us, additional training or reading can sharpen these skills. 

The Apparel Accelerator team at New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. sought and added only those people who were both good team players and technically competent. Because of the high priority and importance of the project, many of New Balance’s best resources were assigned.

In a time when workers are expected to do more with less, highly experienced employees are sometimes laid off, leaving rookies and other less experienced workers to finish the job. This seems to happen when across the board cuts are mandated, such as when every department has to cut 10 percent. Sadly, not every department can withstand a cut of 10 percent. Some groups may improve their efficiency, whereas other groups will burn out the survivors.

To maintain and improve your skills and competence:

  1. Find out the necessary competencies for yourself and the team.
  2. Be a lifelong learner, be ready to learn, and acquire new job skills.
  3. Work to sharpen and maintain your people skills.
  4. Find the best training and development sources: face-to-face training, online training, books, etc. Generally, one company will not have the best training in ALL topics.
  5. Join one or more work-related associations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI®).

Thomas Charles Belanger is the author of Teamwork in Ten Days: Building Successful Teams in the Arts, Sports, Business, and Government, available at and Barnes and Noble.

©2012, Thomas Charles Belanger