Mapping skills and capabilities with communities of practice

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I first wrote about skills mapping in my book Building successful communities of practice. This post digs a little deeper into identifying skills and capabilities with communities of practice.

Skills and capability maps help organisations identify gaps and where to invest in skills development. So it makes sense that many want to create them.

At a high level, communities of practice are groups of people who share a common role or practice and develop their practice together. They are the people that are closest to and care most about that practice because they do it every day. This makes them the best people to map the skills and capabilities needed to do it well.

If communities create the maps, then members will keep them up to date and use them to identify personal development needs. They can also help to give a picture of skills and capabilities of the practice as a whole, which is useful for making decisions about development across the practice.

Skills and capability mapping at a community level means more accurate skills maps that can be useful for individuals, communities and the wider organisation.

What are skills and capabilities?

Before I share a workshop format to create these maps, it’s worth me defining what I mean by skills and capability. I’m trying these definitions out, so please let me know if they work for you or not.

Skill: An ability that people can learn, develop and demonstrate.

For example, singing, making a cake or planning a workshop

Capability: the application of skills, experience and knowledge to achieve an outcome.

For example, running a decorative cake baking business, or devising and facilitating successful workshops with great outcomes

A Capability has many skills within it.

Identifying skills and capabilities (a workshop)

So here is the practical bit, a workshop that will create the first draft of a skills and capability map. This should be done for each community of practice.

Who should be there?

  • a facilitator
  • the community of people who do the role day to day
  • the head of role or practice (if there is one)
  • a subject matter expert or experts in that role (if needed)

What you need

  • a room big enough to move around
  • post-it notes (square is better so you can use the post-it plus app)
  • sharpies
  • around 2 hours

The workshop outline

Exercise 1: What do we mean when we say skill? 

This is a quick exercise to help everyone have a common understanding of what a skill is. Each person gets some post-it notes and a pen. Ask them to write words to describe what a skill is in silence. When everyone has finished, share and agree. You can follow it up with the definition above.

Exercise 2: What we do every day 

The is an exercise to create a view of what people in that role do which will feed into the rest of the workshop.

I like to pair people up in exercises, as it helps everyone get a chance to share their ideas.

Get the group into pairs, one person talks while the other one writes on post-it notes. They should answer these questions:

  1. What you do day to day in your role
  2. What you don’t do that you should (mark these ones)
  3. What you do, that you think you shouldn’t

Once they have finished swap over who is talking and who is writing.

When everyone has finished, it’s time to share. One at a time, each pair puts their post-its on the wall and talks through them, invite questions and discussion.

Keep the “What you do, that you think you shouldn’t” post-it notes separate as we will remove these next. Group the rest into common themes as you go.

Grouping into capability themes

Group common things into capability themes and name those themes. Those themes should describe the role that the community members do. If they don’t, review what is missing.

Exercise 3: What skills do we need to do these things well? 

Split the group into smaller groups of three to mix them up. Each group takes an equal number of the capability themes. For each of those themes, they should write skills they need to be able to do them well.

Then each group will rotate and add to what the previous groups have written. Keep going until everyone has visited every theme.


Review what has come out of the day and talk about next steps

Next steps

You will come out with a big list of skills that sit under some capabilities and some of those skills will appear more than once.

There will be some work to get the outputs of the workshop into a useful format. Work together with the community to do that.

Once you have your map, you can use it for:

  • reviewing individual skills and capability and identifying areas for development
  • identifying opportunities to build skills and capability within the community
  • reviewing the skills and capability gaps across the organisation
  • reviewing job descriptions and role-based objectives

There is more on how to do that in my book Building successful communities of practice

It’s important to keep the map up to date. The community should review it every 6-12 months or when there is a change in the organisation that will effect skills and capabilities needed


Photo by Improve It


  1. ewebber

    6 May 2018 at 6:30 am

    I put the skills and capabilities definition out on twitter and had some agreement

  2. ewebber

    8 May 2018 at 1:01 pm

    An interesting and useful response from David Evans

    “The “cap” in “capability” is Latin for head. So capability (compared with ability) requires thought and/or judgement. Your examples are consistent with this but I think it would put more distinction between the terms if you emphasise that.”

  3. Thanks Emily – are you thinking of updating this article to align with the newly published HM Gov Success Profiles?

    • ewebber

      20 June 2018 at 4:58 pm

      Hi Sean,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Not all of my clients are government and this approach to gathering skills doesn’t take away from any frameworks that an organisation may use to categorise once they have gathered their skills, so I’m not updated this particular post. If you do something similar with the new success profiles, then please share.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verifying Mastodon