T-shaped : Jack of all trades; master of ‘One’

T- shaped skills not only helps the team to grow and be productive but it also puts the organisation in a fast track mode of growth.

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Gone are the days when businesses needed specific skillsets in a talent. With the changing dynamics and disruption by technology, every industry is going through major transformation and people will need to have more than one skill in their buckets to achieve great heights in the corporate world.

This is a time when the T-shaped employees are the ones who are making a mark for themselves in the industry. T-shaped employees or T-shaped people are individuals who are experts in a particular skill or area and also have the ability to collaborate with experts in other disciplines or sectors, and are willing to use the knowledge gained from the collaboration.

In the symbol ‘T’ the vertical line depicts the depth of experience and skill a person possesses in a particular area, while the top horizontal line depicts the breadth of knowledge and skills in different domains and disciplines.

Kamlesh Dangi

“These people are certainly valued when the business is in a steady or stable state, but when the organisation is going through ambiguity, these people are required the most”

The phrase ‘T-shaped employees’ was used by David Guest in 1991 and was popularised by Tim Brown, chief executive office, IDEO an international design and consulting company. According to Brown, the specialised depth of knowledge of a person can be from any number of different fields such as industrial management, architecture, social sciences or even business. The horizontal stroke of the symbol ‘T’ is composed of two things— empathy and enthusiasm. Empathy helps a person think from another perspective and get into someone else’s shoe. Enthusiasm refers to the excitement that people feel about other people’s discipline, so much so that they themselves adopt it.

A T-shaped employee is rather valuable to any industry or organisation. However, there are some functions or scenarios in which these employees are invaluable and come more handy. According to Praveer Priyadarshi, chief people officer, Jindal Stainless, people with T-shaped skillsets are very useful in situations, where the organisation is going through a transformation or a cultural change. For instance, if there is a merger happening in an organisation, the HR may have to collaborate and work very closely with the finance, commercial and legal teams. “These people are very helpful in a collaborative function, as they come with different skillsets and can work extensively with experts from other sectors. Sometimes, they may be given a lead role in such scenarios as they may have strong basic knowledge of things,” says Priyadarshi.

These are also valued or needed the most in the early stage of the organisation, when the company needs to know what is happening in the market. Kamlesh Dangi, group head-HR, Incred Financial Services says, “These people are certainly valued when the business is in a steady or stable state, but when the organisation is going through ambiguity, these people are required the most.”

Praveer Priyadarshi

“These people are very helpful in a collaborative function, as they come with different skillsets and can work extensively with experts from other sectors. Sometimes, they may be given a lead role in such scenarios as they may have strong basic knowledge of things”

To make sure that these employees can perform better and give results, it is very important for organisations to give the kind of culture and environment required for these people. The organisation needs to appreciate such kind of talent and motivate other employees also to gain knowledge in different sectors. “As an organisation, you need to appreciate such talent and also make them into role models so that other average employees can gain inspiration from them,” opines Dangi.

Generally, these T-shaped employees are preferred for roles in the middle-management level, because that is where problem solvers and multi-taskers are required. According to Priyadarshi, a manager, in general, is a person who performs tasks in the HR, finance, legal and commercial areas of the business, and such a person is often found in the middle management.

“You won’t certainly need a person who is a domain expert at the top-management level, unless we are talking about the technology industry or oil-manufacturing industry, where specific skill knowledge is essential in the top ranks. The senior level of management needs to have strategic and team-management skills rather than a specific domain skill,” shares Dangi.

Collaboration, networking and the curiosity to learn and know about new skills is the kind of attitude you need to have to be a T-shaped employee.

Just like in the game of cricket, full-time all-rounders who are good at batting, bowling and fielding go on to become the most successful players in the world. No matter what their form is, they get a spot in the team. Same is the case with all-rounders at workplaces. They are essential to make a difference and achieve an edge over other players in the market.

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