TAP expertise analysis helps ensure you have the right people, right skills, right task when implementing initiatives. It offers an intuitive yet systematic process to find expertise gaps before they derail projects. TAP analysis also provides a useful team tune-up and leadership development opportunity for the team.
The Right People for the Right Task
How often do you think about the expertise of your teams? The odds are not often enough. At least, that is the finding of my research on expertise in teams. A majority of team leaders report considering team member ability when forming teams, but less than 30 percent report they systematically consider team member ability each time they assign new tasks to the team, and less than 15 percent report they consider team member ability when the team is confronted by an unexpected challenge.
In addition, in a study of help-seeking behavior in cross-functional teams, members sought help from the team expert only 17 percent of the time when encountering a problem within that expert’s domain of expertise.[i] In general, we do not consider expertise enough, and when facing new challenges, we certainly do not act often enough on our knowledge of who has expertise.
Choosing the wrong people to implement a new idea is a common source of limited mindsets. The first translation techniques outlined in the previous section deal with the challenge of “seeing” a new opportunity or a new way of seeing things. Now we step back for a moment to consider the actual people we invite to participate in the process. TAP analysis is a technique designed to help a leader identify the right people for the right task. In Unquestioned Brilliance, I describe two uses for TAP analysis: identifying the right people for the right task, and taking an expertise snapshot to assess potential gaps and strengths of a continuing team.
TAP analysis stands for task-ability-person analysis. TAP analysis is a direct translation of some fairly robust social science research on the use of team expertise to address a widespread team leadership challenge.[ii] In my work as a coach and facilitator of executive teams, I continually meet leaders confronting similar team expertise challenges. They ask: How do I select the right people for specific teams and task forces? How can I make sure that my continuing team is developing their skill set in order to succeed?
My attempts to help answer these questions formed the genesis of TAP analysis, while two insights from academic writing and research influenced my design of TAP analysis: first, my own work attempting to create a context-specific way of measuring team expertise[iii]; second, a conceptual article suggesting we refocus the unit of analysis when considering team expertise away from the team and away from the individual and to a unit consisting of a combination of task, expertise, and person (a form of reframing).[iv]
Steps in a Quick TAP Check
Step 1: Clearly define the team’s task. Include any sub-tasks or execution requirements in the task definition.
Step 2: Generate a list of abilities that are either (1) required in order for the team to compete the task, or (2) desired in order for the team to more effectively complete the task. Sort each ability on the list into either the required or the desired category.
3: Identify specific people who possess the abilities. It is acceptable to name a person multiple times if he or she possesses more than one of the listed abilities.
Step 4: If you are also interested in developing team member abilities, create a second list of team members who need or want to develop the identified abilities.
Steps in a TAP Team Expertise Assessment
Step 1: Identify the top ten abilities required for team success.
Step 2: Create the assessment instrument.
Team members will be asked to assess four aspects for each ability:
- Rate the overall expertise level of the team.
- Rate the range of ability on the team. Is the expertise of the most skilled person on the team far greater than the expertise of the least skilled person on the team?
- Identify the person on the team with the most expertise or skill for the ability.
- Rate your own expertise.
Step 3: Administer the survey and collect the results.
Step 4: Score the team.
Step 5: Have a team conversation about the assessment results.
Knowing What Others Know
Awareness of who has knowledge on a team when combined with a team culture of helping and collaboration leads to stronger team performance. When you bring the right people into the team at the right time, you can go a long way toward becoming the leader in your organization who has the reputation for translating insight into action.
This description of TAP analysis is adapted from Chapter 6 of Unquestioned Brilliance. For more on this and other strategic leadership techniques see Unquestioned Brilliance: Navigating a Fundamental Leadership Trap.
[i] John R. Austin, “Expertise and Friendship: Help Seeking Efficacy in Groups,” Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings (2003).
[ii] Yuqing Ren and Linda Argote, “Transactive Memory Systems, 1985–2010: An Integrative Framework of Key Dimensions, Antecedents, and Consequences,” Academy of Management Annals 5, no. 1 (2011): 189–229.
[iii] John R. Austin, “Transactive Memory in Organizational Groups: The Effects of Content, Consensus, Specialization, and Accuracy on Group Performance,” Journal of Applied Psychology 88, no. 5 (2003): 866–78.
[iv] David P. Brandon and Andrea B. Hollingshead, “Transactive Memory Systems in Organizations: Matching Tasks, Expertise and People,” Organization Science 15, no. 6 (2004): 633–44.