Numly Joins NVIDIA Inception Program

Key Soft Skills That Differentiate A Great R & D team From A Mere Good One

By Numly - Leadership Coaching Group
Blog Banner

What is the main difference that separates a good R&D team from a great one? Most will put ‘technical skills’ on top of the chart. The reality, however, is a bit different. 

Of course, organizations need to bank on their R & D teams’ knowledge and technical expertise to come up with innovative solutions. However, do innovative solutions emerge from learning and textual knowledge alone? Or are innovative ideas the outcome of a seeking, curious mind? A mind that is determined to think out of the box, persevere when things look bleak, have the patience to stay on the quest, and work as a collective to come to the desired outcome?

Soft skills, or power skills, as we see them, are the traits that shape how teams work. 

While hard or technical skills are needed to perform technical tasks, soft skills are essential to create a positive, enabling, and nurturing work environment. The importance of soft skills is often undervalued, but this is changing fast enough. 

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report states that skills like creativity, complex problem solving, emotional intelligence, people management, critical thinking, and strategic thinking are some of the most important skills required in the workplace.  

Also Read: How Employees with Power Skills Give Companies A Competitive Advantage

Here is a list of some important soft skills that differentiate a great R&D team from a good one.

Customer Focus

R&D teams need to come up with path-breaking innovative solutions. This demands them to be creative thinkers. However, they also have to be highly customer-focused to come up with the right solutions to real-world problems.

Great R&D teams put the customer in the heart of their initiatives. They have the emotional intelligence and the capability to think and anticipate customer needs, understand their pain points and design, and realize what kind of a solution fits the clients’ narrative.  


When collaboration is driving the world, R&D teams are no exception. The great ones are the ones who do not operate in silos and isolation. They cannot be removed from the other departments of the organization and be expected to come up with path-breaking solutions.

Great R&D teams are aligned with organizational goals and objectives. They work and collaborate with other departments and teams to understand how to improve products, identify avenues and opportunities for new product development by evaluating variables such as customer pain points or technological evolution. These teams realize that ‘teamwork’ makes the teams work.

These teams are highly focused in their collaboration efforts and identify and design systems and processes that drive alignment and teamwork.

Persistence and Tenacity

These traits bring in the ‘never say die’ attitude on the table. The team members are highly motivated to seek out challenging work and areas for innovation keeping customer advocacy in mind. They are also future-focused and employ their creative and strategic thinking skills tenaciously to serve the customer better.  

However, persistence and tenacity do not just mean keeping at it when things get complicated or if a particular solution takes longer than expected to come to fruition. It also means possessing the ability to recognize when a particular effort is going down a dead end.

A great R&D team can tenaciously pursue a project. But it also knows when to press the breaks, take account of the situation, re-assess and re-evaluate and then get back on the road to discovery with no loss of enthusiasm.

Communication and Networking Skills

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes”, said Henry. J. Kaiser. 

Given that the modern workplace is interpersonal, R&D teams have to have strong networking and communication skills to identify these problems and convince the concerned stakeholders about why they need resolution.

No matter how great a solution, it has to be backed up with a strong argument. Great R&D teams have a great technical vocabulary, and they back this up with their communication and networking skills to navigate the complexities of the modern-day workplace. They ensure that their technical, communication, and networking vocabulary build strong arguments with understanding and empathy.


With the world being in a state of constant flux, there are always ideas for innovation. However, for this, the teams need emotional intelligence to identify pain points and challenges and be open to their evolution.

High-powered R&D teams have very high levels of emotional intelligence complementing their technical intelligence. This combination gives them the throughput to become more adaptable and responsive to the constant state of flux that envelops the entire business landscape. It is the adaptability that gives these teams the capacity to be productive, even when things get challenging.

Planning and Execution

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – No matter how great an idea, it will exist only in an amorphous state in the absence of a plan that brings it to life.

Great R&D teams are also great at planning and execution. They approach innovation in a highly methodical and organized manner. They are aware of the importance of timelines and know that without clear planning and robust execution, achieving their goals is highly unlikely. 

These teams have exceptional delegation and organization skills. The teams are self-motivated, great at time management, and have high ownership levels complementing their accountability levels. The high accountability and ownership levels ensure that they stick to the execution schedule to ensure timely delivery of the project.


Leadership is almost an attitude in these teams – an attitude that helps each individual take complete ownership of their tasks, be helpful towards their teammates, and think as a collective and not as an individual. The leadership attitude helps all these team members remain invested in the project. 

Leadership skills such as decision making, intuitiveness to evaluate business and market trends, technology and product evolution, and customer demands, lead to powerful R&D initiatives. Great R&D teams empower all their team members with this leadership mindset – a mindset that makes them place the team above themselves.

Also Read: What Organizations MUST Do to Create Innovation Culture and Grow Strong R & D teams

A cursory glance makes it obvious that these soft skills contribute to the ‘greatness’ of a team. These soft skills, or rather, power skills, give teams the thrust they need to be successful in their outcomes. And ultimately, it is these skills that separate the ‘good’ from the ‘great’.

Are you coaching your R & D teams on these soft skills? With NumlyEngage™, you can deliver measurably greater employee engagement and employee & business growth through a structured approach to soft skills development for innovation in R&D.

Talk to us

Leave a Comment

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

19 + six =

LinkedIn Newsletter


Insights for People Managers to coach with confidence and help them become Better Leaders and Better Teams

Subscribe Now

Pinned Posts