As an agilist I have often engaged in talks about T-shaped individuals. But what I have often been met with is a challenge in understanding what it actually means. “Everyone can’t do everything” or “we can’t force people to do everything in the team” are things I have heard many times. But that is not what the idea behind T-shaped is all about. So what is it all about and why should we care in our organisations and teams?
The idea of a T-shaped individual comes from the recognition that in today’s fast-paced and dynamic work environment, having a mix of both depth and breadth in skills is valuable. The vertical bar of the ‘T’ represents the depth of expertise in a specific domain or skill, while the horizontal bar represents a broader set of skills or knowledge that complements the core expertise.
It’s important to note that being T-shaped does not mean that every team member must be able to do everything or that people should be forced to do more than their specialties. Instead, it encourages cross-functional collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptability.
Here are some key concepts and benefits of encouraging T-shaped team members:
T-shaped individuals can effectively collaborate with colleagues from different domains, fostering a better understanding of each other’s work and enabling smoother communication. This leads to increased efficiency, quicker problem-solving, and a stronger team dynamic.
Flexibility and adaptability
With a broader skill set, T-shaped team members can adapt to new situations, technologies, or methodologies with relative ease. This agility helps teams and organizations stay competitive and innovative in a constantly changing environment.
Encouraging employees to develop T-shaped skills promotes a culture of continuous learning, where individuals are motivated to expand their knowledge and expertise. This results in a more skilled workforce and a higher level of job satisfaction.
Shared ownership and responsibility
T-shaped individuals are more likely to understand the challenges and dependencies across different domains, which helps to foster a sense of shared ownership and responsibility within the team. This leads to higher quality outcomes and a more cohesive team.
Improved risk management
A T-shaped team is better equipped to handle unforeseen challenges or changes in priorities, as they have a broader understanding of the entire project and can step in to support one another when needed. This helps mitigate risks and ensures smoother project execution.
So individuals not only having a depth but also a breadth can bring with it many benefits. But what can organizations do to encourage T-shaped skills development among employees? Some ideas could be to:
- Provide opportunities for cross-functional training and learning, such as workshops, conferences, or online courses.
- Encourage knowledge sharing through internal presentations, documentation, and collaboration tools.
- Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, recognizing and rewarding employees for expanding their skill sets.
- Implement a mentorship or pairing program, where employees can learn from each other and share their expertise.
- Support job rotation or internal mobility to expose employees to different roles and responsibilities within the organization.
By promoting the development of T-shaped team members, organizations can build more resilient, adaptable, and innovative teams that are better equipped to navigate the challenges of today’s dynamic business landscape.
I use T-shaped here but this is equally applicable to M-shaped etc.(or M-shaped, pi-shaped, comb-shaped etc)