In versatile handbooks, white papers and other publications, you can frequently encounter a particular specialist attribute known as T-shape. In construction, there are such terms as T-shape pipe or T-shape beam. In product development, this term of art refers personal competence because “experienced” and “skillful” cannot capture the full spectrum of an individual’s abilities. So, the T-letter metaphor was invented.
Definition of T-shaped skills
As you might expect, the term’s origin is recruitment. HRs needed a good word to convey a diversity of knowledge, skills, background, and experience. As a result, in the early 90s, the concept of vertical and horizontal classification of skills came out. T-shaped refers to someone who possesses deep skills along with a broad base of shallow ones. The concept splits the T letter into two bars – horizontal and vertical.
The vertical bar comprises a bundle of deep knowledge in a single area to facilitate the creative process. It means that being a niche professional (designer, architect, social scientist, business specialist, mechanical engineer, etc.) combined with related skills and experience makes your I-bar longer. Although they are highly valuable, I-shaped people are likely to fail in workplaces that are associated with a high level of collaborative labor. At the same time, those who possess experience in different professional ecosystems develop their T-shaped competencies and are more in demand.
Correspondingly, the horizontal bar includes a range of skills in the areas unrelated to the primary one. Nevertheless, the breadth of these skills allows you to cooperate with representatives of other fields and share a common language with them. For this reason, the horizontal characteristic includes two essential things – empathy and working enthusiasm. The first one denotes a person’s ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and see things from a different perspective. Being enthusiastic about other disciplines and professional environments is always an advantage since the knowledge-hungry employees are worth their weight in gold.
Those who tend to have a wide horizontal bar not supported by discernible specialties are known as dash-shaped people or generalists.
T-shaped concept in product development
Do you believe that a team of top-class experts can be a nightmare for a software company? It can if the experts are tailored to a single field and have no understanding of the adjacent ones. On that account, the IT industry is rapidly switching to a T-shaped professional model.
A regular development process rests upon three pillars: product manager, engineer, and designer. The more complex projects add to this list with marketing experts, QA engineers, versatile business analysts, SEO specialists, etc. Despite the apparent simplicity and accuracy of production flow, it proves low efficiency in practice. Collaboration between an engineer and a designer is limited since they have to wait for the completion of adjacent tasks to proceed with their own work. If their ideas are not synchronized, it takes a while to get a result. The T-shaped approach, on the other hand, allows for a reduction of time expenses and a substantial efficiency growth due to the involvement of professionals with broad adjacent expertise.
T-shaped organization structure
We can apply the concept to not only people but also companies. What is the point of having a team of T-shaped professionals that cannot completely fulfill their potential due to an inappropriate organization structure? On that account, numerous companies are switching to the T-shaped management.
In general, that organization model defines decent management of existing operations along with a well-tailored strategy for future activities. There is a specific list of other attributes to approach your company to the T-shaped title:
- Encourage taking initiative;
- Top level talent valuation;
- Agile organization;
- Availability of cross-site teams, communities of practice and other community-oriented policies;
- High level of in-house data accessibility and information sharing;
- Peer interaction support;
- Ties-strengthening activities like conventions, seminars, workshops, etc.
- Availability of coordination/animation positions;
- Value of individual participation in collective activities.
If you can count at least a half of the described points, your team is on the right path. As for Railsware, we chose a version of holacracy as our organizational structure. Unlike the classical hierarchical approach, the structure is based on teams, which have equal rights and responsibilities for decisions. The “position” concept is replaced with the “role” concept, which allows employees to unlock their potential in different fields. Every T-shaped Railswarian participates in versatile contexts of the company life.