Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: The Key to Building High-Performing Teams

3 min read

April 15, 2024

When did you last evaluate your organization’s hiring and training curriculum? If it’s been a while, it’s as good a time as ever to look closely at what your organization prioritizes and whether the rubric is helping achieve business goals.

During the evaluation, a question may arise about the teams and the individuals that compose them: do they have the traits to achieve team success? Or better asked, do they have the appropriate hard or soft skills to get the job done?

To do this, let’s define what those skills encompass.

Hard skills are learned, measurable, and meant for use in a specific role.

Hard Skills

  • Project Management
  • Programming
  • Technical Certifications
  • Degrees
  • Languages
  • Operating Proficiency

These teachable skills are tangible and relatively easy to identify on a resume and through on-the-job experience. However, for team success and project outcomes, the “soft” skills – personal attributes that shine during specific situations – have become progressively more critical.

Soft Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Flexibility
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Rapport
  • Trust Building

We have witnessed rapid change brought by new ways of working in the past decade, and the future of work will bring an even greater need for team members to get strong, softer skills to the table.

Here are five reasons why this dynamic exists.

5 Reasons Why Soft Skills Are Important in the Workplace

1. Technological Advancements Simplify Tasks and Reduce Training Time

With the consumerization of information and communications technology, using technology productively to achieve your ends has become much simpler and more accessible. This recent revolution in usability means that a team member with reasonable aptitude can quickly deliver results with powerful tools that require months, if not years, of training to master. For example, editing videos or creating infographics requires installing complicated tools and learning how to use them. Now, easy and automated tools from the cloud do the job with minimal fuss and produce great results.

2. As AI and Automation Replace Repetitive Tasks, Creativity and Collaboration Shine

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation are increasingly replacing the technical components of work, especially the more structured, repetitive, or programmable elements. In this context, however, uniquely human attributes such as creativity, leadership, and ability to collaborate are not easily replaceable with automation or AI. These softer characteristics and personal traits will continue to be in demand and deliver sustained value. Meanwhile, individuals may also need the aptitude and skills to collaborate with an AI-driven machine – another potentially essential soft skill.

3. Relevant Technical Skills Quickly Become Outdated, Spotlighting Adaptability

The workplace change rate is increasing, and yesterday’s hard skills have quickly become devalued. That’s why soft skills like flexibility and adaptability to learn what is new and upcoming are mandatory to stay relevant. Meanwhile, a range of soft skills like persistence and motivation can drive a team forward – persevering and learning new technical skills on the fly as needed to meet specific project demands.

4. As Teams Become Project-based, Rapport-building is Essential

As team construction becomes more fluid and project-driven, the soft skills of fitting in quickly, establishing rapport and trust with peers, and understanding how to add value to achieve team goals become critical. Without these “softer” personal characteristics, even those teams stacked with excellent technical skills may not be very productive or adaptable to new challenges in a dynamic work environment.

5. Increasingly Distributed Teams Require Self-management and Effective Communication

Virtual teams tend to have remote or distributed members, potentially assembled to achieve a project outcome or tap the knowledge and expertise of employees whose locations span multiple time zones or continents. Some may work from home or a different location than their manager. This environment implies that employees must be self-managing and productive without the traditionally co-located, hierarchical, supervised team model. These distributed teams tend to be much flatter, more self-directed, and more results-focused. With this team concept, you can see that soft skills would be a higher priority prerequisite regardless of the hard skills required to ensure team members work effectively together to achieve outcomes.

Unless you work in solitude writing code, designing circuits, or doing heads-down engineering, your organization will likely perform better if equipped with people who also bring soft skills to the game. Those who are most adaptable and versatile, effective at communicating and collaborating, and demonstrate superior emotional and social intelligence will go a long way in leading their teams to success – much more so than hard technical skills alone.

What is the implication for your organization’s hiring and training? The first question would be how much time, energy, and resources are allocated to developing soft skills instead of complex skills. Depending on how soft skills are stimulated and utilized, you may have an opportunity to re-prioritize and, as a result, see your teams generate better outcomes for your organization.

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