Focusing on Soft Skills, The MDC Group

Compared to hard or technical skills, what are soft skills, and why do they matter?

Soft skills are also sometimes called core or common skills. They are common to all professions and help people succeed at work. In contrast, hard skills are specific to a particular discipline. Soft skills include everything from critical thinking and problem solving to leadership skills and professional attitude. Companies build a stronger, more cohesive, and collaborative team by focusing on important soft skills for all team members.

Soft skills can be divided into two categories, work management and interpersonal communications.

Work Management Skills Include:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Public Speaking
  • Professional Writing
  • Problem Solving
  • Computer Literacy
  • Organization and Time Management
  • Career Management
  • Willingness and Ability to Learn

Interpersonal Skills Include:

  • Intercultural Understanding
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Listening
  • Carefrontational Communication
  • Leadership
  • Empathy
  • Open-mindedness

When considering the above list, it’s clear why soft skills are important to a company’s ultimate success. A team member who manages time well, is organized and has great interpersonal communication skills helps a company reach goals. Organizations can teach work management soft skills, but since working as a team means dealing successfully with other people, some of the most important soft skills concern communication. Focusing on the many competencies under the interpersonal heading are important for building great teamwork.

How can a company focus on soft skills?

Positive Company Culture with Open Communication Policies

There are learning platforms and systems for teaching interpersonal skills, but a company should start by establishing and promoting an open, positive atmosphere. A company culture that encourages all workers, regardless of their position, to be open and honest with opinions and ideas in the workplace provides the best starting point for soft skill improvement. Team members who feel their ideas will be met with due consideration and without judgment will be happier to develop and improve their interpersonal skills.

As part of an effort to focus on soft skills, organizations should hire people with desirable skills who are open minded and willing to learn. When candidates list desirable soft skills on their resumes, it indicates that they may be a good fit, but teaching interviewers to watch for good interpersonal skills also helps. Sometimes interviewers concentrate exclusively on what hard skills an applicant has when it’s just as important to find people who can collaborate effectively. Adding the right people to the team encourages everyone to work on their soft skills.

As part of an open and positive culture, today’s successful companies teach their team members about carefrontation. If you combine confrontation with caring, you get carefrontation. Carefrontation, a term that started in the psychology field, is confronting someone in a caring way. Teaching your team to approach people about a problem while remembering how important and valuable everyone is, means you get better solutions with less drama and fewer hard feelings.

Assess the Needs of the Team

Through observation, conversation, and surveys, find out what’s needed. Most people know what the problems are. For example, you might get comments like, “I never know what John wants” or, “I have some great ideas, but no one listens.” In studying problems that have occurred over the last year, you may see a pattern suggesting people lack conflict resolution skills, or there’s a lack of empathy between two groups. Give everyone a list of skills and have them rate themselves. People tend to know where they need help. Once you know what’s required, zero in on one skill or skill set at a time to address.

The MDC’s DNA Approach

The MDC Group developed a unique and game-changing plan to promote and encourage desirable soft skills company wide. They started by brainstorming to find words and phrases describing good and bad traits held by past and current team members.

After narrowing the list to the five more desirable traits or soft skills, they began promoting them on posters throughout the workplace to remind everyone what is required to be a great MDC member. They also use interview questions based on the five desired soft skills when interviewing for new hires. They realized hard skills can often be learned more easily than key soft skills.

The Five Soft Skills They Want in their Team Members:

1. Take Direction – Collaborate, Be Carefrontational, but Move Forward in the Same Direction

2. Bias for Action/Sense of Urgency – Make Decisions and Take Action to Completion

3. Personable – Mean People Suck; Treat People with Respect; Internal/External; Up/Down

4. Transparent Communication – Tell the Whole Story; Share Your Thoughts/Perspective

5. Ownership – Own the Situation and the Outcome; Take Full Responsibility, Good or Bad

Group Projects

Companies teach soft skills by encouraging improved communication, leadership, and team building while working on group projects. Everyone involved improves certain skills by working together on a project and meeting regularly to discuss challenges and successes. Overseeing such projects may also help assess company training needs.

Choose or Design Your Training

There are many external sources for training, from online courses to onsite training companies, but they’re also are ways to teach skills internally. For example, companies can purchase and download teaching activities to use inhouse. Some websites offer instructional activities like modules on listening and constructive feedback, intercultural communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. There are also many helpful tips and training ideas on job sites like and various research and university websites. Team activities and games can also help members develop skills. Incorporating them into team meetings and events or taking a morning off to have some fun while learning can be a great way to add to your employee’s skills. Some examples include:

  • The” Yes, and” Game–Choose three or more people to work together in a room. The first person starts a story and passes to the second person, who begins with “Yes, and” and continues the story before passing to a third person. The activity improves listening skills and fast reactions while helping the team members to connect.
  • The “Because” Game–This works the same as the game above but can be more challenging. The game teaches “active listening” because participants need to be entirely engaged in the narrative to come up with a “because.”
  • Tower Building–Establish teams, each with an equal number of people, and give each group a box of assorted items from around the office. There can be books, paper cups, toothpicks, and anything else that might be used to build a tower. Each team uses communication and problem-solving skills to try to make the tallest tower with what they have.
  • Find the Difference–This is a variation on the concentration game—form two lines of people facing each other. Tell everyone to look at the opposite line of people carefully and try to remember everything they can. Have everyone leave the room and change things about their appearance, like putting on a sweater or taking off glasses. Bring the two teams together again, and see what people notice. This activity helps build observation skills and helps people learn to work together.

Adding training modules, surveys, and team games tells your team members the company values soft skills. Focusing on soft skills helps companies communicate and work together more harmoniously. A team of people that knows how to collaborate by listening openly to each other’s ideas will surely accomplish more than a team that doesn’t. Organizations that develop and value these skills in their people have happier, more productive staff.


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