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The Future of Work: Learning the most important skill — teamwork

How to sharpen people skills that lead to professional success

Learning Emotional Intelligence with Lela Djakovic

There is no doubt technology is rapidly disrupting the global job market. While technology will take many of our jobs, technology will create many new jobs as well.

When it comes to the Future of Work, there are so many variables and open questions. An unknown future is frightening and stressful.

Which jobs will disappear?

What kind of new industries will grow and flourish?

How many new jobs will replace obsolete jobs?

What job skills will be required for the jobs of the future?

It’s hard to predict what the business climate will look like even in the next 10 years. For example these tech companies didn’t exist 12 years ago. What billion dollar companies will exist 10 years from now?

For career planners sharpening their learning and development strategy, the question is what in-demand skills will be scarce? What classes should we take? What skills should we build so that our skills are in high demand at emerging companies of the future?

And for employers: what learning and development programs should you run for your employees?

By one estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. This means we are essentially training ourselves today for jobs that we don’t even know about yet.

Invest in skill building

The key to preparing, blindly, for a future job market is to do everything in your power to be ready to adapt for the future of work and whatever it may bring. Focus on learning the fundamentals and becoming highly adaptable:

  • Target an industry that is growing, not dying
  • Target a highly skilled career. Build deep expertise
  • Pick a field you love
  • Become a lifelong learner. Learn to learn. Keep reinventing yourself.

Of course, this education and training advice is easier said than done. There are lots of risks, costs, and unknowns. Finding the right career is a difficult exercise in self-reflection and dedication.

Teamwork in action

Prioritize professional development

But beyond doubling down on domain expertise and hard skills, it’s even more important to prepare yourself for what will be the most challenging aspect of your future career: Teamwork.

While we focus on hard skills (like data science or coding javascript), our biggest career challenges will come from working with other human beings. People are complex. Organizations are messy.

No matter how focused we are on hard skills expertise, above all else we need to learn to work effectively and efficiently with the people on our teams.

Consider the current state of teamwork. It’s shaky at best. We may be technical geniuses who can program advanced algorithms, but when internal team conflict arises we break down and get our feelings hurt like passive aggressive, pouty, immature children.

What touchy-feely skills do we struggle with? Well, all of them: Self-awareness, self-regulation, managing our emotions at work, building respect, building trust, giving and receiving feedback, and effectively communicating with each other. These are core human skills that we need to sharpen and remember. We can’t dismiss their importance.

Teamwork is more important than ever

A recent study from Atlassian shows that not only do we suck at teamwork, but that teamwork is more important than ever.

59% of respondents say communication is their team’s biggest obstacle to success, followed by accountability (29%)

78% of respondents don’t fully trust their teammates

86% of respondents don’t fully trust a new teammate to adapt to changing situations

75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional

No matter how deep your hard skills get you are bound to encounter challenging people-related conflicts at work. Every team member needs to prepare themselves for advanced, high pressure communication scenarios. No matter what industry or field you choose, you’ll need to be the most valuable teammate you can be. The key is to build critical team and communication skills so you can navigate the complexity of your company’s human organization.

Emotional Intelligence could be the most important career skill you sharpen. According to Laura Wilcox of Harvard

“In fact, emotional intelligence — the ability to, say, understand your effect on others and manage yourself accordingly — accounts for nearly 90% of what moves people up the ladder (in their careers) when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar.”

So, while IQ may get you in the door, it’s your emotional intelligence that drives your long term career success.

Emotional Intelligence is critical, and often misunderstood. Techies often dismiss “soft-skills” as silly, or squishy, or just not important. But EQ is more than just fluffy “touchy-feely” stuff. Per the Dunning-Kruger effect, when we are experts in our field, it’s not easy to muster the self-awareness to recognize our own non-techie weaknesses.

Raising your EQ does not mean forcing yourself to become an extrovert. Nor does it mean you should simply remind yourself to be more empathetic. Your EQ empowers you to establish professional presence, manage your emotions at work, be more mindful, build trust and respect, and work well within complex teams. These are not silly non-essential skills that can be dismissed. These are top priority skills.

Learning Emotional Intelligence

While it’s clear that emotional intelligence is important, it’s not easy to know exactly how to acquire key EQ skills. Learning these human skills can be less tangible and actionable than learning hard skills. So how can you take action? What frameworks can you employ?

Step one is to identify what soft-skills you need to sharpen. Emotional Intelligence is a combination of two kind of skills: INTRApersonal skills and INTERpersonal skills. How well you manage yourself and your own emotions, and how you relate to others.

Intrapersonal skills

  • Learn to be self-aware
  • Learn to self-regulate, self-manage

Interpersonal skills

  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Regarding how to learn these skills, the key is to learn experientially and to practice. This is not a topic you can simply research and self-teach.

Like learning to ride a bike — learning emotional intelligence cannot simply be explained to you. You need to get on the bike, ride it, fall over, get up and keep trying until you’ve mastered the bike.

You don’t learn to ride a bike by studying physics. You have to practice.

Following an online tutorial or watching a Youtube video won’t work. You need to get into a group session and get out of your comfort zone, work through team exercises and get some coaching and feedback. Here are some details on How to learn Emotional Intelligence.

While much of the Future of Work is unknown, we do know that we can take action by investing in our own education and training strategies. While we don’t know exactly what hard skills will lead to the most successful career, we do know that no matter what career path we choose, building our Emotional Intelligence will set us apart and drive our professional success.

This post is part of a series on the Future of Work. Check out

Future of Work: Job training for humans

Future of Work: Our love-hate relationship with technology

Future of Work: Learning the most important skill — teamwork




BigTalker helps companies support their employees with leadership and collaboration skill building programs. Professional development sessions include emotional intelligence, communication skills, storytelling, mindfulness and improv theory.

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