The old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none” has a bit of a ring to it. We generally use this as a disparaging remark about a colleague or about ourselves in a self-effacing way. Sometimes being able to do a little bit of everything is positive in a manager, but ultimately you do need to ‘hang your hat’ on and area of the business. People that can do this are T-shaped.
A T-shaped employee, is an individual that has deep knowledge and skills in a particular area of specialisation, along with and the desire and ability to make connections across disciplines. The horizontal bar of the T symbolises a breadth of general knowledge, soft skills and business acumen, while the vertical stem of the T symbolises technical depth. Essentially, a T-shaped individual is both a niche-topic specialist and a generalist with people and business skills.
Today in information technology, T-shaped employees are in great demand because of an increasing convergence of technologies and changes in software development and delivery models. For some software development jobs, such as those that involve DevOps for example, the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team is essential. This contrasts with the I-shaped skills model that information technology departments valued in the past — one in which an employee’s depth of knowledge in one niche area of IT was valued above all else.
One approach to ensuring that a company has employees with the required knowledge and skills for success is to encourage projects that break down silo walls and create an organisational culture that nurtures soft skill development. In such a working environment, employees will naturally gain general knowledge and develop people skills as they continue to build the in-depth knowledge required to support the company’s business goals.
The term T-shaped employee was popularised by Tim Brown, the CEO of the IDEO, a California design firm known for its collaborative and innovative workplace practices.